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How to become an art therapist

You'll need a postgraduate-level degree in Art Psychotherapy to become an art therapist. You'll then be ready to register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and work in the NHS.

What is an art therapist?

Art therapists work with people to explore their emotions and feelings through art and creative activities. They help people express themselves and build self-confidence using non verbal approaches involving the use of a range of creative materials. 

They support children and young people, adults and older people who may have emotional, physical, or mental health problems. 

Starting your career as an art therapist

Choosing subjects at school

To get on a college or university course that could lead to a career as an art therapist, useful subjects include: 

  • Art and Design 
  • Psychology 
  • Maths 
  • English 

Speak to your guidance teacher about subjects offered at your school.

Work placements and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some healthcare experience by doing a work placement or volunteering. You’ll get training, increase your knowledge, and learn new skills. This could help you when applying to university, college or a new job with NHSScotland. 

Education and training pathway

You’ll need a postgraduate degree in Art Psychotherapy to become an art therapist in NHSScotland. 

The degree programme you choose must be approved by the Health and Care Professions Council. Entry requirements include a UK honours degree in visual arts and a portfolio of artwork produced over a period of time.

Other useful undergraduate degree subjects include: 

  • Psychology 
  • Teaching 
  • Occupational Therapy 
  • Nursing 
  • Social Work 

You should contact individual universities to find out about specific entry requirements.

Widening access

Widening participation supports adult learners who want to go to university. If you’re an adult with few or no qualifications, you could get into higher education through the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP). Many universities also provide access programmes to help you get the degree entry qualifications you need. 

Introduction and foundation courses

To help you decide if this career is right for you, you could do an art therapy workshop or foundation course. Training is provided by the British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT)

Art Psychotherapy pre-registration postgraduate degree programme

In Scotland, you can do a postgraduate programme in Art Psychotherapy at Queen Margaret University (QMU) in Edinburgh. This pre-registration programme takes 2 years full-time or 3 to 4 years part-time. 

After graduation, you must register with the HCPC. You can then apply as a newly qualified art therapist for vacancies in the NHS.

Course search

Search for college or university programmes on My World of Work.

Get to know the role

Art therapists must be registered with the HCPC to work in the NHS. 

As an art therapist, you will create a secure environment where people can come to terms with their difficulties, disabilities, or diagnoses. These include: 

  • emotional, behavioural, or mental health problems 
  • learning or physical disabilities 
  • life-limiting conditions 
  • neurological conditions or physical illnesses 

You will support people individually or as part of a group. 

Tasks include: 

  • assess people’s needs 
  • evaluate and understand the emotions and behaviours of others 
  • plan and facilitate suitable interventions 
  • accept referrals from other health professionals, such as occupational therapists and psychologists 

You'll need these skills:

  • creativity 
  • communicating
  • observation  
  • organisation 
  • relationship-building 
  • caring

Art therapists work with other healthcare professionals, including: 

  • psychologists 
  • nurses 
  • healthcare support workers 
  • social workers 
  • teachers 
  • dramatherapists 
  • music therapists 

You could work in: 

  • hospitals 
  • community services 
  • schools and education centres 
  • hospices 
  • care homes 
  • prisons 

Learning and development

During your career, you’ll be expected to keep your skills and knowledge up to date through Continuing Professional Development (CPD). The British Association of Arts Therapists (BAAT) provides: 

  • training courses 
  • conferences 
  • seminars  

Visit the BAAT website for more about training and CPD courses.

Career progression 

You could choose to specialise in working with specific client groups, such as: 

  • children and young people 
  • older people 
  • offenders 

You may decide to become a specialist in a particular area, such as supporting people: 

  • living with dementia 
  • addressing mental health problems 
  • receiving palliative care 

As an experienced practitioner, you could become a senior or consultant art therapist, managing the work of a team of therapists. 

You might decide to become the head of an arts therapy department. Here you could coordinate the work of therapists from other disciplines, such as music therapy or dramatherapy. 

As a senior art therapist, you could also train other art therapists. 

Professional bodies

When you become a qualified art therapist, you must register with the HCPC to work in the NHS. You can also join the British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT).

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