Art therapy has become increasingly becoming popular in mental health settings. Through this approach, professionals combine creating artwork and applying psychotherapy to assess and treat patients with varying mental, emotional, and behavioral problems.
According to the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) database, the projected employment growth for art therapists (classified as Therapists, All Other) is 11% for 2021-2031 (O*NET, n.d.). Many who pursue this profession have a master’s in art therapy degree. This program usually takes two years of full-time study to complete. Learners typically learn art therapy theories and techniques and undergo supervised clinical practicum. After graduating, they are qualified to sit for licensure examinations and apply for certifications to practice as art therapists.
In this guide, we define the job of an art therapist and how a master’s degree in this field can prepare you for this profession. We also include relevant trends and statistics as well as a list of some of the best art therapy programs available today so you can better assess if this is a career path worth pursuing.
A master’s in art therapy is the minimum degree required for those aspiring to become registered and board-certified art therapists. This graduate program teaches students examples of treatment modalities and how to conduct assessments, as well as how to use a combination of artistic activities and psychology so they can guide patients in expressing and processing their emotions visually. This advanced degree also provides the training and skills on how to use creative expression as a method of healing and requires learners to undergo an art therapy internship.
Some of the art therapy courses you can expect in such programs include:
Graduates of master’s in art therapy programs are ready to join the growing industry of mental health practitioners. According to Zippia, the projected job growth for art therapists is 7% from 2018-2028 (Zippia, n.d.). These practitioners can take on jobs in clinics, education, elder care facilities, hospitals, prisons, private practice, rehabilitation centers, and shelters, among other settings. Statistics show that most art therapy specialists work in the health care industry (46%), and this is followed by education (16%), non-profits (16%), professional (9%), and government (3%) (Zippia, 2022).
Like an affordable master's in healthcare administration 2, a master’s degree in art therapy also prepares graduates to sit for the required licensure examinations and to pass the requirements for professional credentials in the field. For example, you can pursue credentials for the Registered Art Therapist-Provisional (ATR-P), Registered Art Therapist (ATR), Board-Certified Registered Art Therapist (ATR-BC), or Art Therapy Credentialed Supervisor (ATCS). All four are offered by the Art Therapy Credential Board (ATCB) and require applicants to meet high art therapist education, experience, and training standards. Some states may also require practitioners to apply for local professional licenses and have set standards for awarding credentials, so, it is best to check which ones you need to practice in your locality.
Source: Zippia, 2022
Most entry-level jobs for art therapists prefer applicants who have a master’s degree in the discipline, especially those who graduated from programs approved by the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) or accredited by the Commission on the Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). The good thing is you can apply to a number of art therapy master’s programs even if you do not have an art background as long as you have a baccalaureate degree.
While an art-related major may be the most obvious choice (and the only one in some programs), other relevant majors – including psychology, counseling, social work, and education – are usually accepted as long as they meet certain prerequisites. Even graduates of other health-related fields, such as an online nursing degree program, may also apply to become an MA art therapy candidate as long as they are willing to take on extra courses required in AATA-approved or CAAHEP-accredited educational programs. Meanwhile, graduates can further expand their scientific knowledge in the field by taking up a masters in clinical research online after.
Anyone who is planning to pursue a career as an art therapist should be prepared to invest in an advanced degree. Most graduate programs require a significant amount of expenses for tuition, school fees, and additional student expenditures. Thankfully, there are several scholarships and financial aid programs available to art therapy students to help bring down the costs.
Based on our research and the list of programs we provide below, a master’s in art therapy degree can cost about $480 per credit hour to more than $2,000 per credit. How much you will pay for tuition typically depends on the type of institution and if you are a resident or non-resident, as seen with doctor of occupational therapy online programs. You also have to factor in additional fees to your expected expenses, including general school fees, program fees, and art equipment fees. According to the programs we checked, these fees can amount to a few hundred dollars or reach more than $1,000 to $2,000.
College Tuition Compare shows that the average undergraduate tuition and fee costs for art therapy degrees can amount to $13,120 for in-state enrollees and $35,057 for out-of-state students. Meanwhile, graduate tuition and fee expenses can be $11,983 for in-state and $24,035 out-of-state (College Tuition Compare, n.d.).
For public schools offering art therapy MA degrees, in-state students' estimated tuition and fees can be as low as $5,656 and as high as $11,496. For out-of-state learners, however, that number can be from $12,558 up to $32,582 (College Tuition Compare, n.d.).
As for private schools with art therapy graduate programs, the presented tuition and fees can be as low as $13,341 and as high as $62,200 (College Tuition Compare, n.d.).
|Lowest Tuition and Fees||Highest Tuition and Fees|
|Public Schools in-state||$5,656||$11,496|
|Public Schools out-of-state||$12,558||$32,582|
|*Values are estimates.|
As previously discussed, most employers prefer hiring someone with a master’s in art therapy for entry-level roles. Thus, you can increase your chances of finding employment after graduating with your master’s degree. O*NET, the database for occupational information in the U.S., shows that 91% of their business and worker respondents say a master’s degree is required to work as an art therapist (O*NET, n.d.).
An art therapist master’s degree also provides you with the knowledge and training to skillfully guide patients in finding jump-off points to start conversations about their issues, mindless behaviors, and subconscious thoughts through their artwork. This can be particularly helpful if clients find it difficult to communicate verbally. The foundational knowledge in psychology and therapeutic models taught in art therapy programs can also teach you how to become a therapist in general, allowing you to explore other potential careers in the mental health setting.
Your advanced degree is an investment, so you want to make sure you choose a program and an institution that best suits your goals and needs as a learner. Many schools that offer a master’s in art therapy degree accept full-time and part-time students and provide financial aid and support to ensure their learners can reach their full potential.
Our research team reviewed the art therapy master’s degree programs available today to present some of the best options for aspiring art therapists. We checked the program outcomes, curriculum, accreditation, reputation, and other significant factors to come up with this list.
Drexel University has a Master of Arts in Art Therapy and Counseling program designed to meet the educational requirements for national certification with the ATR-BC and for state licensure in Pennsylvania as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). The curriculum prepares learners to become art therapists who are competent in theory and applied practice and includes classroom and didactic learning for experiential art making, as well as a clinical practicum and internship field experience. The counseling courses are also integrated with the other creative art therapies of music and dance/movement.
New York University offers a MA in Art Therapy at its Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. The degree prepares learners to meet the educational and professional licensure requirements to become a Licensed Creative Arts Therapist (LCAT) in New York and New Jersey. Program graduates will also meet the educational requirements to apply for the Registered Art Therapist (ATR) credential. The curriculum includes 85-100 hours of clinical observation, a project thesis, and 1,000 internship hours at hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, private mental health clinics, and other pre-approved sites. Students can also apply for a 3-credit global internship program during the summer.
Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) has an MS in Art Therapy and Counseling program that prepares students for the qualifications needed to apply for the ATR and Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) credentials. The EVMS curriculum focuses on experiential and collaborative learning and graduates leave the program to become competent art therapists and counselors in entry-level roles. Students will participate in 32 hours per semester of practicum experience and 14 weeks of internship with children, adolescents, and adults. They are required to complete, defend, and submit a capstone project during their 2nd year.
Florida State University (FSU) offers a Master of Science in Art Therapy through its Department of Art Education in its College of Fine Arts. The program aims to foster culturally sensitive graduates and promote personal and community wellness by applying the power of visual arts and therapy. The curriculum provides a thorough theoretical foundation of techniques and applications in art therapy. Students also undergo three full practicum experiences that allow them to work within clinical and community settings. FSU offers assistantships for students seeking opportunities for stipends and tuition waivers.
Adler University has a Master of Arts in Counseling: Art Therapy dual degree program at its Chicago campus. The curriculum focuses on applying clinical training in counseling and art therapy, fostering social responsibility, and creating real change in the lives of individuals through art. The degree prepares students for licensure examinations and to become counselors and art therapists prepared to serve in a range of settings and diverse populations. Enrollees in the program who are interested in acquiring a Certificate of Substance Abuse Counseling also have the option to add on 12 credits of coursework. Adler’s Vancouver campus also offers an MA in art therapy.
More policies and laws are being set in place to provide better mental health care to patients and to boost support for those who work in the field. This means that mental health practitioners like art therapists can become part of the evolving landscape and push for more research, improved practice, and better life-work balance for those in the profession wherever they are employed.
We mentioned that O*NET projects an 11% increase in employment for art therapy practitioners in 2021-2031, so, you can expect a good job outlook. However, if you want to clinch better-paying jobs, you need an edge over your competition. An advanced degree, relevant work experience, and professional credentials can give you an advantage in most cases.
Zippia reports that the most number of art therapy specialists are employed in the states of New York (394), Illinois (215), and Massachusetts (206) (Zippia, n.d.). Art therapy is also relatively new compared to other types of psychotherapy, thus, there may be a limited number of practitioners in your area. This allows you to have more clients and grow your business, especially if you pursue private practice.
Art therapists also belong to the mental health industry, a sector that continues to grow in demand as more people seek out professional help for their psychological, emotional, and behavioral problems. The Association of American Medical Colleges reports that more than 150 million people in the U.S. live in areas with a shortage of mental health professionals. Additionally, the Mercer 2021 Labor Market report on U.S. healthcare indicates a 10% increase in demand for mental health workers from 2021 to 2026 (Mercer, 2021).
Your background in art therapy can also widen your career options in the healthcare industry. You can pair your master’s in art therapy with another MA or MS major or you can also obtain doctoral degrees in healthcare to pursue careers in research, the academe, policy-making, administration, management, or supervisory roles.
How much you earn as an art therapist depends on your experience, your educational background, your location, and several other factors. The national average salary for an art therapist in the U.S. is $61,181, yet, some practitioners can earn up to $105,500 per year (ZipRecruiter, 2023).
Our research team reviewed datasets and was able to gather that some states pay better salaries to art therapy specialists compared to others. In New York, for example, the median salary for creative arts therapists is $54,910. This is according to the state’s Office of the Professions under the New York State Education Department (NYSED, n.d.). In Alaska, the average salary can go up to $60,131 and in North Dakota, it is $55,994 (Zippia, n.d.).
Your advanced degree is another factor that can make you stand out and improve your chances of earning a bigger salary, especially if you also gain professional credentials to practice. The 2021 Annual Report from the ATCB shows that there are only 6,235 active credential holders. From that number, 405 have an ATR-P, 1,861 have an ATR, 2,551 have an ATR-BC, and 138 have an ATCS credential (ATCB, 2021).
The degree programs for a master’s in art therapy that our team reviewed show that most schools require academic, personal, and artistic qualifications. Based on our research, here are some of the general requirements for art therapy master’s degree programs.
Most students understandably want to study at the most affordable and reputable schools offering a master’s in art therapy degree. While that may be ideal, not everyone can afford, qualify for, or transfer to those schools. Nevertheless, you want to make sure you get the best education possible. To do so, you can also look into other factors that can affect your learning experience and your outcomes when you graduate from the program. These are three of the factors industry experts recommend looking into when choosing a program for your art therapy master’s degree.
Like an online kinesiology degree, a good art therapy master’s degree should provide you with the right training so you can become an expert in your field and area of specialization. Some institutions may offer concentrations and others provide the special knowledge and skills through course electives or a more diversified curriculum. You also want to look for a program that can make it easier for you to move into a doctorate or transition to a related degree or healthcare career.
Art therapists go through a rigorous process to be accepted into a master’s program and to gain credentials to boost their qualifications as practitioners. To ensure you meet the standards of licensing boards, choose an art therapy program that is accredited or accepted by recognized bodies in the industry. Finishing an AATA-approved or CAAHEP-accredited program can make it easier and faster to qualify for the credentials you want.
Your master’s degree is an investment to better your career opportunities and to develop as a person and professional. You want to be in an environment where your potential is recognized and where you can receive adequate and the right kind of support to fully bloom. Look into support programs, mentoring, student services, as well as forms of financial assistance. It is also helpful to find a program that provides work opportunities and has positive employment outcomes for its graduates.
Your master’s degree should be a worthy investment that allows you to expand your career options and improve your earning opportunities. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) shows that those aged 25 to 34 working full-time and having a master’s or higher degree had median earnings of $74,600 in 2021. That was 21% higher than what bachelor’s degree graduates from the same demographic earned, which was median earnings of $61,600 (NCES, 2023).
Source: National Center for Education Statistics, 2023
If you enjoy creating artwork and using it as a medium to get in touch with hidden trauma and unspoken emotions and combining all of that with modalities and theories in counseling and therapy, then a master’s in art therapy could be for you. It can also be a good choice if you are passionate about helping people manage and overcome traumatic, sad, and hurtful experiences and more serious psychological, emotional, and behavioral issues.
Other professions in healthcare may offer better salaries, although not many provide the same opportunity to provide mental health care and support using creativity and visual artwork like art therapy. However, if earning potential is a top priority, art therapy degrees can be stepping stones to getting into the best healthcare administration programs that allow you to pursue higher-paying and more senior-level roles.
Our research also gathered that art therapists are not limited to working as employed individuals in clinics, hospitals, schools, or other organizations. They can significantly widen their work options by becoming private practitioners, freelancers, and even consultants or educators.
The mental health industry is becoming more open and accepting of art therapy, and its use and approaches are becoming more widespread. This is an opportunity to learn more about the profession and the paths it can open up for you.