Art therapists help people express difficult thoughts and feelings through creative activities. If you enjoy helping people and you like using your art skills, this job could be ideal for you.
To become an art therapist, you will need to have a non-judgemental attitude. You’ll need to be able to relate to people from all backgrounds. And you’ll need creativity and imagination.
To work as an art therapist you will need to complete a postgraduate course approved by the British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT). You will also need paid or voluntary experience gained from working in areas such as mental health, education, special needs, or social services.
As an art therapist, you would encourage clients to experiment with art techniques and materials like paint, paper and clay to help them:
- gain greater awareness of their feelings
- express themselves
- work through their emotions
- come to terms with difficult times in their lives
- move on in a positive way.
You would not teach art and your clients would not need any artistic skills.
You could hold group or one-to-one sessions with your clients. These could include children or adults who:
- have learning disabilities
- have emotional, behaviour or mental health problems
- have speech and language difficulties
- are recovering from addiction, injury or illness.
You would work closely with other healthcare professionals, such as psychologists, nurses, social workers, occupational therapists and psychiatrists.
Your normal working hours would be between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday, although some jobs may involve evening or weekend sessions. Part-time and freelance (self-employed) work is common.
You could work in a variety of locations such as schools, hospitals, prisons and day centres. This would depend on the client group that you are working with. You may need to travel between different locations during your working day.
Art therapists start on around £25,500 a year. With experience this can rise to between £30,500 and £40,000 a year. A principal art therapist in the NHS can earn up to £46,500.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
To work as an art therapist you will need to complete a postgraduate qualification approved by the British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT). Once you have qualified, you will need to register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).
Approved full-time postgraduate courses normally take two years to complete. Part-time courses take three years.
To do a postgraduate course, you will need to have a degree in art and design or be a qualified art teacher. You may also be considered if you have a degree in another subject relevant to this career, for instance psychology, nursing or social work.
See the BAAT and HCPC websites for details of approved courses and check with course providers for exact entry requirements.
You will also need paid or voluntary experience gained from working in areas such as mental health, education, special needs, or social services. This might be from working in the community on arts projects, in youth work or with people with disabilities or mental health issues. For advice on voluntary opportunities, you could contact the voluntary services coordinator at your local NHS Trust, or Volunteering England. See their websites for more information.
Training and development
Once you are on an approved course, you will cover subjects such as psychology, child development, family dynamics, psychiatry and the history and theory of art therapy. You will take part in practical training and clinical placements, and you will have personal therapy yourself.
Once qualified, you can register with the HCPC, the regulating body for psychologists. Registration is renewed at regular intervals. For information on statutory regulations and state registration see the HCPC website.
As a qualified art therapist, you will have regular supervision sessions with a registered art therapist supervisor. You will also need to keep your professional knowledge and skills up to date by taking short courses and workshops, like those offered by the British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT). See the BAAT website for more information.
Skills, interests and qualities
To become an art therapist, you will need to have:
- experience of working in the arts
- a non-judgemental attitude
- the ability to relate to people from all backgrounds
- a strong interest or background in psychology
- creativity, intuition and imagination
- the ability to handle sensitive and difficult issues
- empathy and the ability to gain clients’ trust
- strong communication and listening skills
- a flexible and adaptable approach
- the confidence to work with people on their own and in groups
- patience and commitment
- emotional strength.
Health and Care Professions Council
184 Kennington Park Road
Tel: 020 7582 0866
PO Box 2311
Tel: 0345 60 60 655
British Association of Arts Therapists (BAAT)
24-27 White Lion Street
Tel: 020 7686 4216
Health Learning and Skills Advice Line
Tel: 08000 150850
You will find most opportunities in the NHS. See the NHS Jobs website for vacancies. You could also find work with local authorities, voluntary organisations, the prison service, or in private practice.
Many jobs are part-time or temporary, and often depend on whether organisations get funding for particular projects. This could mean that you will need to work for more than one employer, or combine work as an art therapist with another job.
With experience, you may go on to train as a therapy supervisor, lead a team of therapists or manage an arts therapy unit.
Related industry information
The health sector is represented by Skills for Health Sector Skills Council, which comprises three sub‐sectors:
- National Health Service (NHS)
- Independent Healthcare Sector (such as private and charitable healthcare providers)
- Third Sector (healthcare) (such as small local community and voluntary groups, registered charities, foundations, trusts, social enterprises and co‐operatives)
The health sector is made up of hospitals, doctors’ surgeries, dental practices, the ambulance service, nursing homes, residential care homes, complementary medicine and a huge range of other health related activities, from sight tests in opticians to research in medical laboratories. Most people in the health sector work in the publicly funded National Health Service (NHS), which includes:
- primary care (organisations which the public goes to first) – Doctors/General Practitioners (GPs), NHS Walk in Centres, NHS Direct, Out of Hours Emergency Care
- secondary care (organisations which the public are referred onto) – Ambulance Trusts, NHS Trusts/hospitals, NHS Foundation Trusts/hospitals, Mental Health Trusts, Care Trusts (provide joint health and social care activities)
NHS policy in England is directed from the centre by the Department of Health. Local organisations, known as Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), are in charge of providing and commissioning services, controlling the majority of the budget. PCTs are overseen by 10 regional organisations called Strategic Health Authorities (SHAs).
The independent sector includes companies and charities that offer hospital and specialist services usually after referral from a doctor. Operations and other work are carried out in private hospitals, independent treatment centres, mental health units and hospices.
- The health sector is the largest employer in the UK, representing 5.5% of the working age population of the UK and 7.3% of the working age population that are currently in employment.
- It is estimated that the sector employs over 2 million people, including:
- over 1.5 million people in the NHS (72%)
- over 0.5 million people in the Independent Healthcare sector (26%)
- almost 40,000 in the voluntary sector (2%)
- 56% of the workforce has a higher education qualification (or equivalent).
- The age profile for the sector shows an older than average workforce, which is due in part to the fact that it takes some professions a long time to train and can mean that people enter the sector later.
There is a varied list of jobs in the sector ranging from a diverse number of clinical roles, to support and infrastructure staff, for instance: Allied Health Professionals (AHPs); Ambulance Staff; Dental Staff; Doctors/Medical staff; Nursing staff; Midwifery Staff; Healthcare Scientists; Health Informatics Staff; Management; Wider Healthcare Team; Complementary Therapists.
- Skills for Health
- NHS Careers
- Careers in healthcare ‐ A guide to working in voluntary organisations
- NHS Employers
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