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What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is a mental health profession that is adaptable to any mental health, community, or medical population. Art therapists are master’s level (or higher) clinicians that are trained in diagnostics, theories of counseling, assessments, individual and group therapy as well as courses specific to the theory and practice of art therapy.

Art therapy can be defined in many different ways, but the simplest way to think of it is as going to a mental health therapist that uses art materials as tools in session. Art in session can be used to alleviate stress/anxiety during session, or learn techniques that can be used as coping skills outside of session. Art therapy's most powerful tool can be making the unknown known and expressing things that are difficult to verbalize. 

Sometimes we get so caught up in our rational/logical/critical minds that we lose touch with our emotions, our felt senses, and sometimes even our bodies. Art therapists are trained in how to open those connections within ourselves again. 

An ideal art therapy client is someone that is open to trying new things and healing in an unexpectedly enjoyable way. 

Did you know?

Neuroscientific research has shown that through the use of art therapy, the human brain is able to physically change, grow, and rejuvenate according to human experience and need. Images viewed in the mind’s eye have remarkable effects on the brain: neurotransmitters and hormones are produced, genes are switched on and off, and the brain’s anatomy is altered. Using art materials, the art-making process, and visual expression to sustain focus on chosen images can have a lasting positive effect on the brain, altering its structure and functioning.

What training do art therapists have?

Most Art therapists begin with an undergraduate degree in Psychology, and take studio art classes; or conversely have studio art degrees, but must have 18 credit hours of Psychology to be eligible for an Art Therapy Master's program.

Art therapists go to Art Therapy master's programs (currently in only 12 states) which are typically 2-3 year programs, taking the courses mentioned above. During graduate studies, art therapists begin working with clients and are required to gain at least 600 hours working directly with clients practicing art therapy (while supervised) before graduation. 

After graduating, art therapists must continue to practice art therapy under supervision, gaining at least 1,000 hours working with clients using specifically art therapy. Once this is complete they can apply to be a Registered Art Therapist - ATR. 

After becoming an ATR, art therapists can then choose to sit for their board exam, (200-250 question). If they pass this exam, art therapists are awarded the title Board Certified Art Therapist, ATR-BC. 

After becoming ATR-BC, art therapists can then begin supervising other art therapists who are working on gaining their ATR. Once an ATR-BC has supervised 5 successful ATR's (they were able to obtain ATR), then the ATR-BC is eligible to apply to be an Art Therapy Certified Supervisor (ATCS).

These credentials are all monitored by the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB). They ensure that the educational and professional standards needed to be a qualified art therapist are met and maintained – essential in any human services field.

Where can Art Therapists work?

You may find art therapists working in:
• Private practices
• Mental health hospitals
• Medical hospitals
• Schools
• Veterans’ centers
• Centers that treat eating disorders
• Correctional facilities
• Homeless and domestic violence               shelters
• Social service agencies
• Elder care facilities
• Community centers
• Centers that treat substance abuse
• Disaster relief and crisis intervention
• Wellness centers
• And many more!

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