Art therapists provide advice and counselling services for patients using various art disciplines as a medium of expression, healing and therapeutic relief. They work with people from all different age groups, genders and cultures and often provide an effective form of therapy after other, more traditional methods have failed.
Art therapy is a regulated profession under the aegis of the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), and requires postgraduate training.
Art therapists are employed by NHS trusts, local authorities, educational institutions, private healthcare facilities, community centres, charities, not-for-profit organisations, rehabilitation clinics and HM Prison Service.
Some art therapists also work as freelance consultants or private practitioners.
If you enter this profession, you’ll be dealing with cases that have been referred to you by professional colleagues, practitioners from other disciplines, psychologists and psychiatrists.
Initially, you’ll be carrying out detailed consultations with patients and reviewing case histories to understand the underlying causes for why they might need therapy.
Following this assessment process, you’ll be responsible for devising therapy schedules around patients’ preferred forms of artistic expression, e.g. drawing, painting, sculpture or clay modelling.
It will also be vital that you maintain detailed records of the therapy sessions you lead and keep track of the latest developments, regulations and research in the field of holistic and vocational therapies.
Salary & benefits
Annual salaries for art therapists in the early stages of their careers range between £26,000 and £35,000, while professionals with more experience can earn between £30,000 and £42,000 per annum.
Principal art therapy consultants can earn up to £50,000 a year.
Freelance art therapists usually charge an hourly rate or on a session-by-session basis. The rates you can legitimately charge will understandably depend on your level of experience.
NHS employees tend to work a regular nine-to-five day. Private sector professionals have more flexibility in setting their work hours; however, they will need to accommodate their patients’ requirements.
Working during weekends and national holidays is rare, unless time is specifically set aside by the art therapist to help patients and their families in a residential setting.
To become an art therapist, you will need to obtain a relevant postgraduate qualification in art therapy and become a registered member of the Health and Care Professions Council.
Before you do this postgraduate course, it would be advisable to obtain an undergraduate degree in a subject such as fine art, graphic design, jewellery design, psychology, occupational therapy, social work or youth work.
Gaining appropriate practical work experience through holiday work or internships will significantly help your chances of finding employment. You will also need to undergo a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.
Training & progression
As a qualified art therapist, you will begin your career by working under the supervision of an experienced consultant.
The majority of your training will have been completed during the postgraduate course and thus the rest of your training will be facilitated by gaining on-the-job experience.
Many art therapists may wish to improve their skills and expertise by attending training seminars, workshops and conferences organised by the British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT).
Opportunities for career progression include working in a supervisory role where you’ll be helping junior art therapists to flourish, or specialising in a particular field of art therapy.
For instance, you may choose to work with children who have learning difficulties or behavioural disorders.
Alternatively, you may wish to provide long-term therapy for hospice residents as part of a pain management process.