So You Want to Become an Art Therapist?
I receive several calls and emails weekly from students and clinicians interested in pursuing the career of art therapy. I decided to write a blog about my journey to becoming an art therapist for those interested. At the end of the blog I have added some tips and resources. Hope this is helpful, best of luck on your journey!
As a child I always naturally expressed my personal pain and pleasure through art. I enjoyed creating and sharing my creations with others. I would dream of having a career as an artist. I had never heard of the profession of art therapy.
I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to study when I began college. I started my undergraduate training with as many art classes as possible as well as psychology classes. Through my psychology classes I began to understand mental illness and how it affected so many people within my family. I learned that because of my experience with mental illness within my own family that I had deep compassion and understanding of the complexities effecting many individuals and families connected to mental health.
I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree in Mental Health and Human Services at the University of Maine at Augusta and worked as a case manager for two years. I enjoyed the work of helping to support families, but realized that I would need more training in order to be able to do the deeper personal work with individuals that I longed to do. Also, something was missing. I had abandoned my creativity.
While researching colleges with graduate programs in Clinical Psychology, I discovered the Master’s Degree in Clinical Art Therapy at Springfield College. My mind was blown. I thought, “Art Therapy!? What is it? I have never heard of this!” I researched more about the profession and discovered that it was the combination of Art and Psychology courses. I could not believe it – this profession was who I was naturally!
I researched online and learned that there were no graduate programs in the state of Maine for Masters level training in art therapy. I would need to make a 2 year commitment to train out of state. The closest programs that I could find were in Massachusetts. I applied and was accepted to the Clinical Art Therapy Program at Springfield College.
I traveled back and forth between home in Maine and class in Massachusetts for two years. I rented an apartment that I stayed at part-time in Massachusettes to stay at a few nights a week for classes. It was important to me to complete my internships in Maine as I planned on returning to Maine after graduation and wanted to establish connections here.
Luckily, my internship supervisor had educated me about the importance of connecting with the Maine licensing board to ensure that I had taken all of the classes that Maine required for licensure. I learned that the state of Maine did not accept the ATR credential (registered art therapist) and that art therapists are not able to bill insurance companies with this credential for reimbursementin Maine. I asked my advisor at Springfield College to connect with the state of Maine licensing board to be sure that I had all of the classes that I needed before graduation to become licensed in Maine as a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor.
Upon graduation I returned to Maine, so proud of my degree. I researched jobs in Maine for art therapists and found none advertized in the entire state. After interviewing for many jobs that were not open to and did not understand art therapy, I found a job where I was hired as a conditional LCPC and they were open to me incorporating creativity into my work with clients. I passed the exam to become a conditional LCPC and completed my supervision to become fully licensed and billable to insurance companies.
I additionally made the choice to pay for supervision by an art therapist to earn the ATR (registered art therapist) credential as it was very important to me to honor my title and training as an art therapist. There is also an additional test that ATR’s can take to become board certified as art therapists. I decided not to move forward with this test as the credential was not recognized within the state of Maine and I had already passed the clinical exam required for Maine licensing requirements. I also have colleagues in Maine who are art therapists who did make the choice to take the additional test to become board certified. The choice is personal to what feels right for you.
At the start of my work as an art therapist at an agency, I purchased all art materials on my own for individual sessions and groups for the first few years. By my 7th year at the agency, I had written and received several grants to support art materials for individual and group therapy sessions for all of the students within the entire school program. I received the Forty under 40 Emerging Leaders of Maine award for my work in developing and implementing art therapy programs with at risk youth. By this time there was much more awareness within our community about the healing power of creative expression in clinical practice. I was finally receiving calls from the community for individual art therapy sessions. It was at this time that I decided to start my own practice – central Maine was finally familiar with art therapy!
This is my journey to becoming an art therapist in Maine several years ago. There may be other programs now that are more tailored to your needs, there may be online options or long weekend training options. You will need to complete your own research about possible programs and make a decision about what works best for you. There is no right or wrong way to becoming an art therapist, there are many avenues.
Here are some tips to explore on your journey to becoming an art therapist:
Find an accredited Master’s program that fits your needs
Develop a relationship with the licensing board in the state that you plan to become licensed in, not the state that you are attending for school
Connect with the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) for more information, research and resources about the growing field of art therapy – www.arttherapy.org
Connect with the Art Therapy Credentialing Board (ATCB) for more information about licensure as an ATR or ATR-BC – www.atcb.org
Connect with the Licensing Board in your State – here is the link for Maine- www.maine.gov
Participate in art therapy sessions for yourself
If you are a clinician, you could attend an art therapy training to see if it is fulfilling work for you