Skip links
art therapist

Arts Therapist – The A to Z of Allied Health

This week’s edition of The A to Z of Allied Health shines a spotlight on arts therapists. (Read our introduction to The A to Z of Allied Health here.) We’ll define arts therapists, what they do, where they work, and how to make art therapy your career.


What is an art therapist?

An arts therapist is a mental health professional who works with a client or patient through artistic media and practices.

Arts therapists work with individuals of all ages and groups using therapeutic techniques that are traditionally based on psychoanalytic or psychodynamic principles.

Arts therapists use a range of experiential, expressive, and creative modalities, including visual art making, drama, and dance or movement within a therapeutic relationship to inform and improve and physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.

Art psychotherapy can be used in both therapeutic and diagnostic processes. In art therapy, the emphasis is on the process of creating and meaning-making, rather than on the end product. Art therapies are evidence-based and theoretically informed.


Where do arts therapists work?

Arts therapists work in several countries including Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and the USA, and are also recognised in several countries in the Asia/Pacific Region, including Singapore and Hong Kong.

Arts therapists work in a range of settings, including residential aged care, community health organisations, prisons, not-for-profit organisations such as crisis centres, hospitals, schools, and in private practice.


art therapy

How do I become an arts therapist?

Arts therapists must have completed a two-year Masters degree in an approved art therapy program and at least 750 hours of supervised clinical practice.

In the UK, aspiring arts therapists will usually require a primary degree, experience of professional care work (usually one-year full time equivalent) and then complete a two-year Master of Arts or Master of Science degree.

Similarly, in Canada and the USA, arts therapists must hold a Master degree or Master Diploma in Art Therapy. Graduate level education requires a minimum of 700 hours of supervised clinical practice.

Arts therapists are self-regulated in Australia, New Zealand, the Asia Pacific Region, and Canada.

In the USA, art therapy is self-regulated in some states, in others, it is regulated with professional art therapy licenses, other professional licenses (e.g., in Texas, Licensed Professional Counsellor with Specialty Designation in Art Therapy).

There is one peak body for professional membership in the Australia-Pacific region: the Australian, New Zealand and Asian Creative Arts Therapies Association.


Which character traits are most helpful in art therapy?

In addition to competency and affinity for working with artistic media, successful arts therapists tend to have the following character traits:

  • emotionally stable
  • insightful
  • empathetic
  • sensitive
  • patient


Workforce considerations for arts therapists

Although art therapies have a long history in some countries including Australia—where the first association was established in 1987—there is still generally poor recognition and understanding of the profession. What’s more, inaccurate advertising of products and services as “Art Therapy” is problematic for this relatively small allied health profession.


Find out more about arts therapists

Here are some links to websites and resources for and about arts therapists:


Share your views and experiences

Are you an arts therapist and keen to share your views on the profession or your experiences of it? Help us build an understanding of this growing profession by sharing your thoughts at