If you are interested in art therapy it is important to understand that there are two common definitions for this career field. First, many people think of art therapy as the process of making art as being therapeutic in itself. There is also a definition of art therapy as the psychotherapeutic transference process that exists between a client who creates art and their therapist. In this capacity of art therapy, the psychologist (or therapist) would interpret a patient’s symbols of self-expression as it is shown in their art, which will elicit an interpretation from the patient.
It is most common for art therapy to be used as a means of communication for individuals who have experienced a traumatic event in their lives, an illness, or people who are working on personal development. Art therapy is a method for individuals to increase their awareness of themselves and others and to deal with the symptoms, to handle stress and traumatic life experiences, to boost their cognitive abilities and processes, and to simply enjoy the art making process. When properly performed, art therapy integrates the fields of visual arts (such as sculpture, painting, drawing, and other forms of artistic expression), the fields of human development, along with the knowledge of counseling and psychotherapy.
Art therapy is a fairly new area of psychological and therapeutic practices that is found in many settings that have diverse populations. Although it is common to find art therapy offered in clinical settings, you will also be able to find art therapy occurring in non-clinical settings, such as art studios or creative development workshops. As an art therapist you will likely have a similar educational background as marriage and family counselors or mental health counselors. However, since specific licensure varies from one state to another an art therapist’s title and license may vary depending upon the state you reside in.
For example, art therapists may hold a title or a license as a social worker, a nurse practitioner, an art therapist, a marriage and family therapist, a creative arts therapist, any type of counselor or psychologist, an occupational therapist, or a rehabilitation therapist.
In your capacity as an art therapist you will likely provide services to adolescents, adults, children, families, groups, or even couples. You will use what you know about psychotherapy skills and evaluative tools to choose interventions and materials that are appropriate for what the patient needs. You will also be responsible for designing therapy sessions that will work towards achieving pre-determined goals and objectives for the patient. In addition, it is common for art therapists to use a variety of resources, symbols, and historical art while working with their patients.
It is important to understand that art therapy is one of the few types of psychological therapy that does not require a patient to communicate verbally. Therefore, you may find that you will be conducting art therapy sessions with patients who are suffering from Alzheimer’s, depression, chronic illnesses, issues related to aging, effects from a stroke, cognitive functions, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and traumatic brain injury.
When you practice art therapy in the United States it will be a great idea to become registered or certified in several areas. For instance, you could become registered (ATR), board certified (ATR-BC), licensed as a creative arts therapist (LCAT), licensed as a mental health or professional counselor, or licensed as an art therapist. In order to become registered (ATR) you must have completed a graduate level program in art therapy, completed a practicum and an internship, and completed a clinical experience following graduation.