I always tell people that I love what I do, but I don’t enjoy what I do every minute of every day. I think that’s a realistic representation of the frustrations of any job.
To become an art therapist, you should have some kind of art and psychology background from a 4-year college in order to apply to graduate-level programs. Every program will have specific admission requirements, which you can find on the AATA website. I know a lot of art therapists who had other careers before, then decided to go into art therapy later in life. You can come from anywhere, I’d say, as long as you meet the qualifications for the school. This means having prerequisite classes like basic psychology, human growth and development, abnormal psychology, drawing, painting, and ceramics. If you really want to become an art therapist, find out about graduate programs in your area.
You will need a master’s degree in art therapy to become an art therapist, and most programs will also prepare you for counseling licensures. You will do practicum internships during or after school as a graduation requirement, then after finishing school you will be under supervision to acquire hours for licensure. This means that you are working in the field but also meeting weekly with a qualified, licensed professional as a mentor for guidance with clients. Currently I’m getting supervision hours for both the LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor) and the ATR (Registered Art Therapist). Depending on where you live and work, it might take between 2 and 3 years to get this credential.
Art therapists work in a variety of settings including hospitals, nursing homes, schools, prisons, impatient psychiatric hospitals, private practice, and many more. I work in a residential treatment facility for adolescents with eating disorders. As far as what is it like, I’m guessing you mean what do I typically do day to day? I’m with clients throughout the day leading therapeutic groups and during down time, providing support during therapeutic meals, providing individual support when necessary, and assisting with individual sessions.
I do really love what I do! There are many different settings, age groups, and populations to which art therapy can be applied, so you might find yourself doing something very different! In the past I’ve worked with women in IOP substance abuse and addiction groups, homeless adults, and in a school with kids diagnosed with emotional disabilities/autism/behavioral disorders. Every one of these placements has been very different and provided unique challenges, so it’s important to explore these things in school to find out where you might like to work best. Good luck!