Job descriptions and industry overviews

Art therapist: job description

19 Jul 2023, 08:59

Art therapists help patients with emotional and mental health problems to cope by supporting them to express their emotions and feelings through the medium of art.

A painter's hand dipping a brush into a tub of brown paint.

Art therapist : Salaries | Employers | Qualifications and training | Skills

Art therapists (also known as art therapy practitioners and art psychotherapists) work with a wide range of patients, helping them express themselves and learn ways to cope with the impact of mental health problems, behavioural difficulties, substance abuse, learning disabilities and life-limiting conditions.

Art therapy channels patients’ energies into visual art, which they can use to explore, communicate and address their situations with a trusted professional.

Art therapists play an active part in the sessions, guiding patients through the creative process and encouraging them to engage with their feelings and explore the thought processes behind them.

Typical duties include:

  • meeting patients or clients and arranging activities and sessions.
  • planning and facilitating activities.
  • supporting clients appropriately throughout their therapy – for example, by encouraging them to try different media or to reflect on their artwork.
  • maintaining workshops and equipment.
  • organising and carrying out one-on-one and group workshops.
  • facilitating group sessions – for example, by encouraging members of the group to relate to each other through their art.
  • liaising with other professionals, including those working in medicine, healthcare and education, social services, and the prison and probation services.
  • attending seminars, workshops and conferences to discuss treatment methods and share ideas and experience.
  • referring patients or clients to other therapists and health professionals.

The role can be testing as patients may be facing complex challenges and difficult life situations.

Graduate salaries

The NHS reports its starting salaries for art therapists to be around £33,000. However, it’s common for work to be part time, so your salary will reflect the hours you work.

NHS salaries are agreed centrally so are not open to individual negotiation. However, they do rise regularly and, as you gain experience, you’ll be eligible to apply for higher-paid roles.

Typical employers of art therapists

  • NHS trusts.
  • Private health organisations.
  • Local authorities.
  • Adoption agencies.
  • Creative arts organisations such as theatre companies.
  • Hospices.
  • Charities.
  • The prison service.

It’s also common to be a self-employed art therapist, particularly once you have built experience.

Jobs are advertised by careers services and university departments. You’ll also find them advertised on specialist jobs boards. Some specialist recruitment agencies also advertise vacancies.

Qualifications and training required

Art therapists need a postgraduate diploma in art therapy or art psychotherapy that is recognised by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). Course providers often require candidates to hold a first degree in an art-based subject, although you may still be accepted if your degree is less relevant but you have plenty of evidence to demonstrate a strong art background. The British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT) provides a list of recommended courses on its website. Study takes two to four years and you must register with the HCPC before you can start work.

You will need experience of working directly – either paid or as a volunteer – with a vulnerable person and supporting their welfare before you can apply for an art therapy course. Positions are not always advertised so expect to make speculative applications and to be flexible.

Once qualified, you’ll need to continue learning via continuing professional development (CPD). This ensures your professional knowledge and skills are up to date.

Key skills for art therapists

  • Excellent artistic abilities.
  • Maturity and patience.
  • The ability to work with people from a range of backgrounds and who may be facing difficult situations.
  • The ability to inspire trust and provide an open atmosphere that encourages learning and participation.
  • Willingness to support patients and clients with difficult, perhaps painful and embarrassing situations.
  • Excellent interpersonal, communication and listening skills.
  • A strong knowledge and understanding of the theory and practice of psychotherapy and the role art can play in treatment.
  • Business skills for private practice.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

People reading this also searched for roles in these areas:

undefined background image

We've got you

Get the latest jobs, internships, careers advice, courses and graduate events based on what's important to you. Start connecting directly with top employers today.