How Do I Become a Creative Arts Therapist?

T. L. Childree

Creative art therapy is a special form of psychology that utilizes art for the diagnosis and treatment of patients suffering from stress or trauma. Preparation for this career should begin by taking related courses in high school. In order to become a creative arts therapist, you will need to earn a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master’s degree in art therapy. An internship should also be completed during your final year of college and professional certification is typically required prior to employment. After you have become a creative arts therapist, employment can usually be found at a hospital, rehabilitation facility, or residential treatment center.

Creative art therapists help patients express their feelings in creative ways.
Creative art therapists help patients express their feelings in creative ways.

It is best to begin preparing for this career during high school by taking as many related courses as possible. Classes in biology, psychology, and sociology will provide a basic foundation for your college studies. Fine arts subjects such as drama, dance, and art can also be beneficial for students who desire to become a creative arts therapist. After completing high school, you should enroll in a four-year college to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Classes in the fine arts are a useful area of study for future arts therapists.
Classes in the fine arts are a useful area of study for future arts therapists.

In addition to a bachelor’s degree, you will also need to complete a master’s degree program to become a creative arts therapist. In the United States, this degree should be obtained from a college accredited by the American Art Therapy Association (AATA). This widely-recognized accreditation is usually required for future professional certification. The AATA offers a list of undergraduate prerequisite courses along with accredited master’s degree programs at its website.

You will also need to complete an internship during your final year of postgraduate studies. This on-the-job training program allows you to gain practical work experience in this field. Internships are often offered as part of a master’s degree program to help you to qualify for professional certification. You may want to volunteer your time at a hospital, rehabilitation center, or mental health facility if an internship is unavailable.

Most regional laws require you to be professionally certified prior to employment. In the United States, a widely-recognized certification is offered by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC). Certification candidates must meet certain educational and work experience requirements to sit for the exam. Upon successful completion of this exam, you will receive the Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist designation. Continuing education courses and work experience are required for periodic recertification.

Creative arts therapists are typically employed by hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes, as well as colleges and rehabilitation facilities. They may also work for residential treatment centers, correctional institutions, and behavioral health centers. The primary goal of these professionals is to improve the overall mental and physical health of groups, families, and individuals through some form of creative arts therapy. Therapists often specialize in a particular area such as drama, dance, and movement, or art. The basic principles of these art forms are utilized to improve coordination, express feelings, or increase cognitive function.

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