Art therapists help patients express feelings and work out issues through a variety of artistic mediums. A person interested in becoming an art therapist should understand that, in the United States and Britain, a master's degree is required, along with extensive art therapy training. Art therapy training includes classes in therapy skills, artistic techniques and hands-on field work. The best candidates to be art therapists are compassionate people with patience, good listening skills and an interest in artistic expression.
Educational requirements for practicing art therapy, also known as expressive therapy, differ by country. Many countries do not require a specific degree. The American Art Therapy Association requires a master's degree in art therapy or a similar and applicable therapy field. Britain's National Health Service will not employ an art therapist who does not hold a master's degree in the specific field. Master's degrees require post-graduate education that usually takes from two to four years to complete.
Being an accomplished therapist is not enough to be a skilled art therapist. To use sculpture, painting or another art form to help a patient, an art therapist must be proficient in these mediums. Art therapy training involves classes in a variety of artistic practices. Candidates with existing degrees in art or therapy will find their secondary training focuses on what they are lacking. For example, a candidate with a bachelor's degree in studio art will likely take more therapy training and less art training because of his background.
Art therapy schools vary in their exact curricula and graduation requirements. Regardless of the school, a student will go through many hours of hands-on fieldwork and training in a variety of settings before receiving an art therapy degree. Working with an experienced art therapist will help the student learn to deal with emotional outbursts and difficult patients in a way other coursework cannot. Some art therapy schools offer enough courses to allow a student to focus on a particular art form or health condition, such as mental health or physical movement issues.
Once a person has received his art therapy degree, he must become registered with his country's licensing association, if one exists. The association will ensure that the new art therapist stays up to date on new developments in art therapy, possibly by requiring on-going training. Taking a regular refresher course in art therapy training will help an art therapist learn new techniques and ways to connect on a deeper level with his patients.