art therapist

How to become art therapist

What does an art therapist do?

Art therapy encourages self-expression through the medium of art. Art therapists work with clients who may be suffering from a mental or physical illness, have learning difficulties or are recovering from some kind of traumatic experience.

Through the use of various art materials, the client is encouraged to discuss and work through emotional difficulties. This can be done through the use of paper, paint or even clay. Group discussions and creative activities are central to art therapy, although a lot of work may take place on a one-to-one basis. 

Art therapists work alongside psychologists and psychotherapists, nurses and social workers. Liaison with these professionals and also the client’s family is an integral part of the therapy.

What's the working environment like for an art therapist?

Working hours are mostly 9am to 5pm, although some flexibility may be required depending on location.

Therapists may be based in a general or specialised hospital or day/community centre. A driving licence can be useful, as travel may be necessary between sites.

What does it take to become an art therapist?

As an art therapist you need:

  • experience in working within the arts
  • a strong interest or background in psychology
  • a mature outlook, and the ability to handle sensitive and difficult issues
  • the ability to gain clients’ trust and confidence
  • strong communication skills for working with people on an individual basis or in a group.

You'll need to be a qualified art teacher, however there are other pathways into this career. Degrees in art, design, nursing, psychology and social work are all acceptable studies that will be useful in this line of work. 

You will need to complete a postgraduate course that is approved by the British Association of Art Therapists and will also need clearance from the Disclosure and Barring Service. 

Paid or voluntary work is also valued. This can take place within mental health, education, social services or working with people who have special needs. 


Art therapist career opportunities

Most art therapists work within the NHS or local authority social services departments. However, there are opportunities within the private healthcare sector, voluntary sector, with drug and alcohol services, and the prison service. With experience it may be possible to progress to senior grades or train in supervision.

Sessional work is frequently available.

Further information

If you're interested in helping people through this creative form and would like to learn more about becoming an art therapisat that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

British Association of Arts Therapists (BAAT)
24-27 White Lion Street
N1 9PD
Tel: 020 7686 4216

Health Professional Council (HPC)
Park House
184 Kennington Park Road
SE11 4BU
Tel: 020 7582 0866

NHS Learning and Development Service
Tel: 08000 150 850

NHS Careers
PO Box 376
BS99 3EY
Tel: 0845 606 0655



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