Pros and Cons of Being an Art Therapist

Hello my friends. So today I’ll be talking about the pros and cons of being an Art Therapist and being in the career field of Art Therapy. So, we’ll go over the benefits, the advantages, as well as the challenges that come with being an Art Therapist and working as one (in the US). Before we get into the pros and cons, I just want to say that this is my personal point of view on working as an art therapist and becoming an art therapist. So it will be different what you will experience, what you will feel and think when you get into the career field. So just keep that in mind. So the first pro is that art therapy work is very satisfying, and rewarding work.

It’s really satisfying to see clients make art and see them grow through art-making processes, and to hold that space for people, to find different parts of themselves that they haven’t found before and express feelings and thoughts that they’ve never knew existed or they didn’t really get to explore.

So witnessing everybody’s “Aha” moments and whenever they gain insight, it’s just a very fulfilling part of working as an Art Therapist. When you do Art Therapy with people, you’ll notice that things get right to the point really fast and there’s no long routes and there’s not a lot of going in circles, a lot of times, clients and people are able to express themselves pretty directly.

The art is kind of like a shortcut to the main issue, the main problem, and the main (therapeutic) goal that we are trying to focus on. So that’s also another satisfying part about Art Therapy. The second point that I wanted to share with y’all was that with Art Therapy and with going through Art Therapy training, it’s really helpful for your own personal growth and for you to understand more about yourself and the people around you.

So when you go through the trainings and the education and the experience of working as an Art Therapist, you will learn so much about yourself, about emotions, about healing, about human psychology, and you get to gain a coping skill of using creative art as a way to cope. And this is something that you take with you once you learn you take with you for the rest of your life. And so I think With Art Therapy and with going into that field, you gain deep knowledge about yourself, which is very helpful for you in terms of working as an Art Therapist and as a human being too. Another pro is that there’s a lot of flexibility and possibility within this career field.

Because Art Therapy is relatively new in comparison to other types of work and other types of career fields, there’s a lot of possibilities in you creating the specific career that YOU want. So you might be able to become a director, you might be able to create and find a program that you really love, or you might be able to integrate different types of therapy with Art Therapy and unique services to people. And you might become a spokesperson for art and Art Therapy.

There’s a lot of different things that you can do once you get that experience and knowledge of Art Therapy. And also, it’s just purely fun to do Art Therapy work – to work with art materials, and try out new materials and see how that affects people, and to witness clients growing through Art Therapy, and seeing them make art, experiment with art and you also have to make art yourself too as an Art Therapist so that’s also fun too. So there’s a lighthearted and fun aspect to Art Therapy that I really love.

Let’s get into the cons of getting into the Art Therapy field and working as an Art Therapist. So the first thing is that this is a pretty high investment career field. So what I mean is that in order to become an Art Therapist it requires a lot of investment in your time and in your money. So when you get into the training and the education to become an Art Therapist, it requires high amounts of tuition. And I know that tuitions can range from $30,000 to almost $50,000 per year these days for graduate programs that specialize in Art Therapy and it can take a significant amount of time to become an Art Therapist because if you count Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree and the time it takes to become Board Certified and Licensed, then it could range from 7 plus years and it just depends on the person, but for me personally, it took almost 8 years in total if you counted from the moment I started my Bachelor’s degree.

That’s how much time it can take for you to actually start doing Art Therapy with people as a licensed or certified Art Therapist. And because the tuition is pretty high, a lot of times people have to take out student loans, and this is a very big commitment and an investment. Repaying loans could take a long, long time especially if the loan that you take out is a very high amount so this is something that I think will require you to think really really hard about before you get into starting this Art Therapy career field. The other con is that working as an Art Therapist the average pay (salary) is not that high.

So, when people being to do Art Therapy, based on surveys, people make around $30,000~ a year, and the average that I found by doing research was $43,000 a year and $23 per hour. So if you look at that and compare to other types of psychology or mental health careers, it can be a lower paying job. Depending on how you look at it, that might be okay, that might not be sufficient. And if you took out loans to get through that Art Therapy education and get that Master’s degree, then it can be especially hard if your pay is low, because it might take a long time to pay off the loans and that can be a very big challenge for Art Therapists.

The third con is that the job outlook for Art Therapy is not that positive. So once you get out of graduate program and once you get certified, or even before you get certified, it can be very hard to find an Art Therapist job out there. Because this field is pretty new and because of other myriads of reasons, there are not a lot of jobs out there especially in states that don’t have licenses for Art Therapists. So I tried to do research on this topic and it was really hard to find concrete evidence for job growth and job outlook for Art Therapists because there is just no research going on in this area.

The only thing that I could find was that in 2004 the job outlook was that the number of jobs was decreasing slightly and they projected that in 2008 or 2010 or so it will increase but since there was no research going on at that time I believe (or at least I don’t see that right now) we don’t really know what the job outlook really looks like right now, and whether the number of jobs available increased or decreased right now. So this means that you might have to work other jobs and you might have to work in roles or positions that are not specifically for Art Therapists.

So that might include doing social work jobs, doing just pure art related jobs, doing different kinds of businesses or part-time jobs, so because of the job outlook and the number of art therapy jobs out there, it can be a challenge and it can be difficult for those of you who really just want to do Art Therapy work when you graduate and get a license. And the last thing I want to mention is that this can differ for a lot of people, but I think that being an Art Therapist and working as an Art Therapist, you don’t see a lot of people who really know what you do and it’s very easy for people to misunderstand what you do or just don’t know what you do.

And that can be very difficult to navigate as you work because you might feel not validated for the work that you do, you might not feel like you’re appreciated for the work you do, you might not feel connected to other people around you especially co-workers, and maybe supervisors – they might not even understand what you do – so that can be very hard, emotionally. So it’s really easy to get in a defensive position or be resentful of other people or very angry or irritated a lot of times.

And plus a lot of the environments that you might work in that are mental health related or especially non-profit environments that can be no supportive in what you do. So that’s one thing that I think might be a difficult part about becoming an Art Therapist and working as one. In conclusion, being an Art Therapist will require a lot of high investment and low guarantee on jobs but it can be very rewarding and there’s a lot of possibilities and flexibilities in creating your own career path.

Art Therapy and Childhood Trauma

Art therapy is a regulated mental health profession using the creative process to enhance a patient’s experience in a safe environment, structured by the therapist, who facilitates, helps facilitate that process for the client.

Art therapy, it really is all about how to give voice to things that may be unspeakable for one reason or another, and again, having the therapeutic benefit of the client feeling as if they’re not the only person in the world who’s ever felt this way, and that somebody else can understand what’s happened to them.

Having the art is a way to see the future to see who they are, and to express themselves, is really helpful … and how people are seeing who they are, compared to how they feel on the inside, compared to the exterior self.

It’s about the process, the art-making, not the final product. A lot of these kids do have histories of trauma and so the ability to, the way the art making process taps into that nonverbal part of the brain and helps them to eventually uncover some of the more deeply seeded traumatic experience they’ve been through.

And then through working with an art therapist who facilitates the process of let’s bring that material forward to a verbal level, where they could start to work it out and move past some of that traumatic history.

We do it in such a way that not only are we meeting people where they are, but we’re trying to make sure that we’re using the art so that they feel their particular lens is reflected and respected, so no matter what their cultural, racial, ethnic background is, that they can see that art can be a vehicle for them to explore whatever the presenting concerns are.

The notion that there is something wrong with them is sort of an anathema to adolescents, they really don’t like that idea, so they’re angry about their life circumstances, and they’re angry that somebody’s told them they have to get some help.

The work so again is how to help them take the feeling that’s in here, honor it, believe that it has reason to be there. It’s not because they’re a bad kid, that they have reasons why they feel the way they do.

The work was all about how to take this feeling that’s inside, get it out in a visible form, and then have the therapeutic benefit of somebody else in the world getting it and being able to understand what had been communicated visually.

What comes to mind is a case that I currently have with a young girl who is now five, but at the age of three, she was playing on a balcony and a stray bullet, you know she’s living in a community where there’s community violence, and she was shot in the leg. And her response to that trauma was to stop talking to anyone but immediate family.

I mean, despite the fact that she very, did not talk to me in the beginning, she responded to art making and I met her where she was and allowed her to draw whatever she wanted to do.

She eventually at the beginning of this school year transformed into this typical youngster who talks to her teachers, went back to the previous teacher, talked to her, and again, I’m like, what did I do other than allow her to kind of tell her story along with the family? I used some art-making activities to even engage the family and what that whole experience was like for them and to go, kind of step by step through a series of drawings to tell their story.

People are experiencing all kinds of different traumas, but one thing that has kept me going, no matter how challenging these cases are, is the response to using art therapy.

What is Art Therapy?

A lot of people ask what is Art Therapy and how is it different from making art? Well, in the simplest terms Art Therapy is like any other therapy cognitive behaviour therapy, group therapy, psychotherapy. All which aim to support people through emotional and psychological difficulties. These therapies are based on the relationship between a therapist and a client and are geared towards achieving therapeutic goals, whatever that may be the thing about art therapy is that in this process clients can harness the creative power of art and making art.

And it’s interesting because art is like a wordless story it enables peoples to express themselves and often find words to things that they couldn’t put words to before. In Art Therapy, the focus is on the process of art making, not the art itself.

So, it doesn’t really matter how good you are at making art, it is more about how it makes you feel and the process of making it and the insights you gain from the creation process. It is a language of self-exploration and it can reveal things even in the lines, shapes and colours that you use so when you consider everyone’s creative, really Art Therapy can be for anyone. Art Therapists, unlike what some people think or movies like Parasite might suggest we don’t make judgements about peoples art that’s really something for the individual to make sense of.

Rather, we are trying to encourage clients to explore their own internal state through art making to reveal things that make sense to them for their own meaning. So, really what we do is we encourage them to think about the lines, the shapes, the colours the effective of making the art has on them and identify ways forward that feel right for their own situation.

Art Therapy is a powerful health enhancing treatment and it’s widely used for a range of mental health issues evidence of it’s benefits range from supporting psychological distress to emotional dysregulation, from supporting recovery from grief or PTSD and even for dementia and addictions.