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Finding Your Fit: Working as a Creative Arts Therapist

Want to combine your love of art with helping others? Consider a career in creative arts therapy. Meet 3 students pursuing this career.

Want to combine your passion of art with your desire to help people? Consider a career in art therapy. Creating art is a reflective practice and is a wonderful way to help people learn and work through difficult periods. In creative art therapy patients explore and express their feelings to understand internal conflicts and develop social skills.

“My personal experience with art making has always left me feeling empowered,” shares Stephanie Laureano, Hofstra MA candidate in Creative Arts Therapy Counseling. “Being that I’m shy by nature, art has always helped me convey things I was afraid to vocalize. When it came time to consider what I wanted to do with my life, I knew I needed to make creativity and art-making a lifetime decision. It was through the guidance of my undergraduate counselor that I discovered the creative art therapy counseling career path.”

For others, creative arts therapy is a new way to rejuvenate their career and passion to help others. “I had been working as a social worker for 9 years and was feeling burned out,” says Marian Cooper, MA candidate at Hofstra. “I wanted to make a change and really started researching art therapy.”

Art therapy can also build up confidence and be used to reduce anxiety or even to help overcome addiction. “I became interested in art therapy as a career by way of living through these last few years,” says Cassandra Oswald, MA  in Creative Arts Therapy. “Things took a turn nationally and culturally. I mourned the death of my heroes and two of the greatest artists of all time. I lost dear friends. I saw other friends struggle to stay. Nothing felt right, and I couldn’t get my bearings. And I knew art was the way through.”

Art therapists help a variety of populations, from children to the elderly, deal with medical and mental health issues. As an art therapist, you could be working with people who have severe behavioral problems or simply to help individuals gain insight and grow emotionally, creatively and spiritually. A growing field in creative arts therapy, for example, is working with Veterans and helping them overcome trauma or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics and Burning Glass does not separate out data on art therapists, but the field of mental health therapy and advanced healthcare therapists are expected to grow 14 to 34% in the next eight years and the American Art Therapy Association’s 2016 salary survey estimated salaries between $30,000 and $79,000 a year. Art therapists work in traditional settings like psychiatric facilities, hospitals, rehab clinics, and senior centers, but you can also find work in non-traditional settings such as research facilities or detention centers.

Art therapy is a form of professional counseling and requires a master’s degree to get an entry-level job. Your training should cover the creative process including a variety of art modalities, from drawing to painting and sculpture. Having a facility with a variety of creative processes helps you adapt to your population and offer them outlets commensurate with their interests and ability and is an important consideration when choosing programs. “I was looking for a graduate program that put the creative in creative arts therapy,” Oswald says. “I knew I wanted a program that valued the process and spirit of art, and looked to find this value reflected in the curriculum.”

The curriculum should also provide you with an overview of psychological development, and a strong grounding in psychology, group therapy, art therapy assessments, psychodiagnostics and the ability to work with diverse groups. But if your undergraduate work is a little shy on psychology, don’t let that stop you from applying. “I was short a few psychology pre-requisite credits,” says Laureano. “I knew that my lack of psychology credits would make my application to art therapy programs a lot more difficult, but I found that Hofstra considers all aspects – application, portfolio, and personal interview within their acceptance decision. I ended up being accepted and given the opportunity to actively acquire the psychology credits within the first year of the graduate program.”

According to the American Art Therapy Association, you’ll also need 100 hours of supervised practicum and 600 hours of supervised art therapy clinical internship. Programs like Hofstra’s MA in Creative Arts Therapy offer field experiences and internships to help with these requirements. Hofstra graduates are eligible for licensure in NYS as a Creative Arts Therapist (LCAT) and to sit for the Art Therapy Credentials Board Examination (ATCBE).

National area labor market data retrieved from Burning Glass Technologies in March 2019