Clients can be anyone of any age or background who find creating, exploring or discussing art to be a beneficial way to further explore their feelings.
What is an Art Therapist?
Art therapists build relationships and support their clients to communicate challenging emotions and experiences using art. Clients don’t need to have any experience of making their own art work- it’s much more about the process. An art therapists’ clients may have found traditional talking therapy ineffective or inaccessible, while art helps them explore deep feelings that they may struggle to express verbally. Sessions might be on a one-to-one basis, in conjunction with a client’s larger support team, or as part of group therapy sessions.
Your salary as an art therapist is largely defined by whether you work as an independent contractor or via the NHS.
Art therapists may work independently or as part of a larger team, such as an NHS mental health service. If you are part of the NHS, you are likely to be working with individuals with a life limiting condition, such as a physical or mental disability, or an illness. Art therapists that sit within a wider team may work alongside clinical psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, and teachers.
Art therapists have a broad and varied role. Their responsibilities include:
- Keeping up to date with developments in the profession such as attending conferences, reading recent research and studying new therapy methods
- Coming up with creative therapies to help clients.
- Building up a full understanding of their client’s needs and developing an individualised plan to support them
- Maintaining art resources for clients, such as paint, 3D materials, and books.
- Collaborating with a wider team on an individual’s progress, and within the bounds of confidentiality, sharing relevant information with others to support them.
- Working in a variety of different settings from schools to hospitals and even private homes.
- Keeping track of administrative tasks, such as client bookings (usually only if you are an independent therapist) and client progress reports.
Your salary as an art therapist is largely defined by whether you work as an independent contractor or via the NHS. If you choose to work within the NHS, you’ll likely work part time hours, and your salary is dictated by the Agenda for Change pay rates.
- When you begin working, you’ll likely be on a band 6 salary (£33,706). After five years, you’ll move up to £40,588.
- If you move further up the ranks within the NHS, you may reach band 7 as a Senior Art Therapist (£41,659 - £47,672).
If you choose to go self-employed, your overall salary is highly dependent on what you charge. Individual sessions are charged anywhere from £50 - £80, though this rate also needs to factor in your business costs, such as materials and venue hire. Rates also vary depending on location. The further south and closer to London you are, the more you can likely charge. You might like to calculate the number of hours you would ideally work by the common hourly rate for your area, minus 30% for tax deductions and business fees, to get a picture for what you can earn. Independent art therapists often do more than individual therapy sessions - they may take part in community art projects, deliver workshops, and teach group sessions.
Entry requirements for the art therapy profession are very standardised. You’ll need a masters degree in Art Therapy to practise, as well as formal accreditation from the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). There are a variety of art therapy courses out there - just make sure they offer accreditation as part of their study.
As a qualified art therapist you are required to undertake regular continuous professional development (CPD) and evidence this with the HCPC.
At undergraduate level, students are usually required to have studied art-based subjects. Some universities offer joint honours courses covering Art and Psychology, which are also popular preparation for the more formally recognised masters degrees. Art specific undergraduate degrees might include:
Alternatively, many applicants to art therapy courses have carried out their undergraduate studies in other disciplines. Providing you can prove your commitment to art therapy, you may be able to join a masters degree with the following subjects at degree level:
An alternative option is an NHS recognised art therapy apprenticeship. The Level 7 Art Therapist Degree Apprenticeship has limited spaces, and places are dependent on area availability. You can find out more here.
Training and development
As a qualified art therapist you are required to undertake regular continuous professional development (CPD) and evidence this with the HCPC. This can be carried out in a variety of ways. You may shadow a senior member of staff, if you work within a larger team, attend conferences or events, and take short courses offered by your employer.
To apply for a postgraduate art therapy masters degree, you’ll usually need a minimum of one year’s work experience in a relevant field.
Some individuals choose to register with other formal therapeutic and/or psychology bodies. You might register with BAAT, the British Association of Art Therapists, and take advantage of regular seminars and conferences where you can learn from others in your field. Other recognised bodies include the British Association of Counselling and Psychology (BACP).
The skills of an art therapist are incredibly diverse, and they grow as your professional practice develops. Skills you’ll need to make a start in this career path include:
- A good grasp of common art styles, themes and techniques to use with your client base.
- A creative flair for thinking of new and alternative ways to connect with clients.
- An understanding of key therapeutic strategies to make use of with your clients.
- Ability to work well in a team and liaise with others, such as taking part in supervisions with a senior member of staff, and planning collaborative therapies with psychologists.
- Excellent communication skills to get the best out of clients who find communication difficult themselves.
- Patience and empathy.
- Ability to maintain full confidentiality within the bounds of safety.
- An awareness of safeguarding and the prevent strategy, so that you know when you need to bring in further support if an individual is at risk to themselves or others.
- Emotional resilience to stay calm when supporting clients with distressing feelings and memories.
To apply for a postgraduate art therapy masters degree, you’ll usually need a minimum of one year’s work experience in a relevant field. This doesn’t need to be art work experience or specifically art therapy based, but will need to offer evidence of you working in a caring, sensitive environment with vulnerable people.
Examples include working in education, youth work, residential care, mental health support or a hospital setting. You can reach out to local support services within the NHS, prisons and schools, to ask if any formal art therapy currently happens in your local area, and if you can volunteer to support.
Art therapists build relationships and support their clients to communicate challenging emotions and experiences using art.
If this isn’t possible, it’s also worth looking in your local area to see if any informal art therapy work exists, such as peer support groups, and asking if you can get involved in a voluntary capacity. You could also offer to set up a small group within a setting like a school or residential care home, such as an art club. Be mindful that you cannot offer art therapy until you are qualified - but you can run art creation or appreciation groups that give you a taste of creating art in a collective with others. Be aware you may require a DBS check to do so if you are working unchaperoned with vulnerable people (under 18’s, the elderly and those with additional needs).
Art therapist jobs can take your career in a variety of directions. You may begin work straight after qualifying as an art therapist within the NHS, but move up the ranks to a more senior therapist position.
You may choose to specialise in working with a particular client base, either independently, within an NHS team, or even as part of a charity. These might include art therapy for children, especially children with additional needs, victims of trauma, crime victims, those with speech and language difficulties, or those with debilitating illnesses.
You might also choose to move away from direct therapy and instead work as an art professional on community art projects, writing an art therapy book, or as a creative role within a charity.