Allied Health Professions: Art Therapist

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Art therapists are skilled in verbal communication, have an understanding of art, and provide a environment in which patients are able to express themselves safely and confidently without fear of reprisal.

Student Katie Nelson and her mentor These highly skilled professionals foster self awareness and confidence and help their clients/patients vocalise often confusing, complicated emotions, which they may find difficult to express verbally under regular circumstances. Part of an art therapist’s role is to devise distinct ways of working with clients in different environments. This may include providing a variety of art materials and a secure environment to those who cannot speak, so that the art itself becomes a valuable means of communication.

In group work, an art therapist will encourage members to relate to each other via the art they produce. The images and their meanings for the group will need to be worked through, which can take some time.

Qualified art therapists work in a variety of settings. These can include:

  • Children and adolescents
  • Adult and aged services
  • Palliative care and hospices
  • Learning disabilities
  • Special and mainstream education
  • Autistic Spectrum Disorder
  • The NHS and Private Health Sector
  • Head and stroke injuries
  • Drug and alcohol services
  • Forensic medicine
  • Prison service
  • Social Service
  • The Voluntary Sector

Entry requirements for art therapy

To become an art therapist, you will usually need a first degree in art or associated subject, although trainees may also come from a variety of working backgrounds including educators, artists. social workers, and related professions.

Most courses prefer to admit mature, flexible individuals who have had experience of working in education, special needs, mental health or social services before applying. 

Those who have qualifications other than art degrees must be able to demonstrate their ability and commitment in the practice of a visual art. They are also required to undertake extensive of art practice during their course.

Training

Applicants to art therapy courses are usually graduates in Art and Design or qualified art teachers, although other graduates are sometimes considered depending on individual circumstances. Prior to training, many universities require applicants to have completed a set number of hours working with those who have mental health difficulties or disabilities.

The programme itself is conducted at Masters level and is typically completed over 2 years if done full time or 3 years if done part time.

In addition, trainees are mandated to complete 120 days clinical placement and also to undertake personal therapy over the duration of the course.

To practice as an art therapist, you must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). In order to register with the HCPC, you need to have taken an approved programme in art therapy. Art therapists are trained in the psychology of therapeutic relationships and image making as well as the importance of boundaries, and psychological and psychotherapeutic practice. 

Once qualified the Art Therapist must apply for Registration to the HPC before they can practice. Only Art Therapists who have registered with The British Association of Art Therapists and the HPC can practice as an art therapist in the UK. In the UK it is considered illegal practice as an Art Therapist or Art Psychotherapist unless you are registered with the Health Professions Council. 

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