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Art Therapists

At a Glance

  • Use a variety of media to work with clients
  • Have a master's degree
  • Work with a variety of clients, including those with special needs
  • Usually work 40 hours a week

Career summary

Art therapists plan and carry out treatments and activities with patients. They use art to help patients improve their physical, mental, and emotional health.

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Art therapists work with clients to help them process emotions and deal with difficult situations. They interview clients to gather information. Then they help the patient select an art form to use during therapy sessions.

Art therapists work with a variety of clients, including children, the elderly, and those with emotional or development issues. They work in a variety of settings, including:

Art therapists usually let their client choose the type of art they wish to work with. Mediums include:

Once a client has completed a project, the therapist helps the client interpret the emotions behind the work. For many people, expressing themselves through art is easier than talking about their feelings directly.

Art therapists keep detailed records about each therapy session. They often work with other care providers, such as social workers.

Related careers

This career is part of the Health Science cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to art therapists.

Common work activities

Art therapists perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, art therapists:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Art therapists frequently:

It is important for art therapists to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for art therapists to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Art therapists need to:


Reason and problem solve

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as an art therapist, you typically need to:

Education after high school

To become an art therapist, you must complete a master's degree in art therapy or a master's degree with a concentration in art therapy. You need a bachelor's degree to get into an art therapy master's degree program. You must also submit a portfolio of original artwork, and meet studio art and psychology prerequisites.

Master's degree programs generally take two years to complete. They include a minimum of 24-graduate credit hours in the art therapy core curriculum. You study theories of art therapy, counseling, and psychotherapy. You also study ethics and standards of practice; assessment and evaluation; and individual, group, and family techniques. You gain practicum experiences in clinical, community, and other settings.

A few schools offer doctoral degrees in art therapy. These usually take three to five years to complete after you finish your master's degree. Most people with doctorates become professors.

On-the-job training

While in graduate school, you must complete a practicum or internship. You spend at least 700 hours practicing art therapy while supervised. At least half of these hours must be spent working directly with patients in individual, group, or family formats. There also are opportunities for specialization with specific patient age groups, practice settings, and types of intervention.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum (external link) may be different from your state's graduation requirements (external link).

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups (PDF file) that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Employers nearly always require a master's degree. Employers also prefer applicants who have work experience. Internships and volunteer work are good ways to get experience. Some employers hire graduates who completed internships in their agency. Employers also look for people who are dedicated and have excellent communication skills.

Many new art therapists begin work with an experienced therapist who has an established practice and clientele.


Currently, 6 states require art therapists to be licensed. They are Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Oregon. Requirements vary by state.

Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


Recreational therapists (SOC 29-1125)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $20.39 $23.33 $27.63 $33.62 $40.03
Monthly $3,534 $4,043 $4,788 $5,826 $6,937
Yearly $42,400 $48,530 $57,460 $69,930 $83,270
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $22.34 $26.08 $30.37 $38.40 $45.94
Monthly $3,872 $4,520 $5,263 $6,655 $7,961
Yearly $46,473 $54,229 $63,171 $79,869 $95,550
    Spokane-Spokane Valley Hourly $18.89 $21.50 $24.06 $27.54 $32.18
Monthly $3,274 $3,726 $4,170 $4,773 $5,577
Yearly $39,301 $44,723 $50,040 $57,280 $66,927
    Vancouver Hourly $16.75 $19.00 $32.89 $36.75 $39.11
Monthly $2,903 $3,293 $5,700 $6,369 $6,778
Yearly $34,838 $39,500 $68,412 $76,436 $81,343
United States Hourly $14.23 $17.90 $23.01 $29.63 $37.04
Monthly $2,466 $3,102 $3,988 $5,135 $6,419
Yearly $29,590 $37,220 $47,860 $61,630 $77,050

Wages vary by employer, area of the country, and the therapists' level of experience.

Art therapists who work full time often receive benefits. Common benefits include health insurance, sick leave, and paid vacation.

National wage information is not available specifically for art therapists. However, they are part of the larger group of "recreational therapists."

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook


The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Recreational Therapists (SOC 29-1125)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 203 18.7% 16.1% 19
    Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman Counties 10 0.0% 8.6% 1
    Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston Counties 16 6.3% 14.1% 1
    King County 68 29.4% 19.6% 8
    Pierce County 32 31.3% 15.2% 4
    Snohomish County 12 25.0% 12.4% 1
    Spokane County 44 15.9% 13.9% 4
United States 19,800 7.1% 5.2% 1,100

National employment

Major employers:

National outlook

Demand for this occupation will be about average. The growth of the aging population will increase the need for art therapists.

Rehabilitation, home health care, and programs for those with disabilities will create the most jobs. Job opportunities in hospitals will decline, as services shift to outpatient settings.

This occupation is very small so the total number of job openings will be low. However, some openings will occur as current therapists retire or leave this occupation for other reasons.

Employment and outlook information is not available specifically for art therapists. However, they are part of the larger group of "recreational therapists."

Other resources

American Art Therapy Association (external link)
4875 Eisenhower Avenue, Suite 240
Alexandria, VA 22304
Art Therapy Blog (external link)
Art Therapy Credentials Board (external link)
7 Terrace Way
Greensboro, NC 27403


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupation

Strong Interest Inventory

Holland occupational cluster