What Is Art Therapy? pt. 1

To simply put it, Art Therapy is therapy with art. It is counseling, and, no, it is not “those inkblot things.” I can understand the confusion though. However, psychologists are required to have specific training in order to administer Rorschach inkblot tests. 

First, I would like to explain the training and education art therapists have.

An art therapist goes through their own specific schooling, which enables them to ethically practice as a mental health professional. In order to ethically call yourself an art therapist you need to accomplish 3 major things. Firstly, you need a Bachelor’s degree with specific undergraduate classes in fine arts and psychology. Secondly, you need a Master’s degree from an accredited Art Therapy and Counseling program. Thirdly, upon graduation, you, as the new art therapist, would have to obtain 1,500 direct client contact hours. These hours have to be accomplished while being supervised from a Board Certified Art Therapist before you can completely practice on your own. Those 3 major things are not easy things to check off the list. 

I am currently on the third major thing. I recently graduated and handed in my application to receive my ATR-P credential, which is the provisional step to becoming a registered art therapist. Once I have my ATR-P I can begin working towards my 1,500 supervised hours. THEN when those hours are complete, I can apply to receive my ATR, and I will be a registered art therapist! Additionally, if I want to be Board Certified (which I do) there are more things to complete.

So. Many. Things. 

I was in my Master’s program for over three years taking classes year-round. Most semesters I was taking 3 courses which is the max amount you could register for. There was specific Counseling classes I had to take, along with specific Art Therapy classes. Art Therapy programs also require hands on experience with clients as a grad student through internships. The American Art Therapy Association requires almost 100 more client contact hours for students to complete in their internship compared to a lot of other counseling programs. Then, my program required students to write a thesis. Which, if you know, you fucking KNOW. It felt like I was getting two Master’s degrees. In a way, I was, because once I finish the required post-graduate client supervision hours, I will be able to have multiple credentials behind my name. I will eventually be a Board Certified Art Therapist and a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. 

Now, I realize all of this could sound like a pissing contest, but I go into this detail to show how valid this field is. 

Not everyone in the mental health world views Art Therapy as a legitimate profession. It is viewed as less than, and people believe art therapists do not have the knowledge to be “real” counselors. When the reality is, art therapists most likely have MORE education and training than licensed counselors and social workers. Many organizations art therapists work for strip them of their title and only allow them to be called counselors. Even with all this work, companies try to give art therapists a shit salary while also not giving a budget to provide art supplies. 

It can feel like a dog eat dog world out there. And I am sure music therapists, play therapists, dance therapists, drama therapists, etc. feel the struggle as well. I know it has challenged me to stand my ground, use my voice, and honor my worth. Which is scary because I am a brand-new baby deer out here trying to find my way! There is a difference between “making it work” and accepting an offer from a mental health organization that would leave me struggling to make ends meet when I am more than qualified. 

One last important thing then I’ll get off my soapbox!

There is a current battle the American Art Therapy Association and its members face. We encounter other mental health professionals who have not acquired the appropriate training yet say they offer Art Therapy in their services. So, if you are on Psychology Today or other search engines looking for a therapist and they say they offer Art Therapy but do not have ATR-P, ATR, or ATR-BC behind their name, they are NOT qualified. Working with art while holding the space for a client in their most vulnerable moments is an intricate process. A person can easily cause harm to the client when using art if they do not know what they are doing. Which goes against the ethical principles and professionals could be reported for doing so. 

Can you tell I am passionate about Art Therapy?

In the next blog post, I will describe what happens while in an Art Therapy session! Going to see a therapist can be an intimidating experience. It definitely was for me when I first went to see a therapist, and I know for me it is helpful to have somewhat of an understanding of what to expect before investing in anything related to healing. Thank you for taking the time to read about the training behind Art Therapy! It takes around 10 years before an art therapist can practice completely on their own. Which is wild, but it just goes to show that I GOT YOU! I do know what I am doing. This is my purpose. I am here for you and to be a guide throughout parts of your healing journey.

When we see the light in ourselves, we create light in others. 

Much love,

Kelsey

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