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A career in Art Therapy?

This is an overview of Art Therapy as a career including what an art therapy is, a little of the history of art therapy, the regulatory framework in which we currently work and the initial training and continuing professional development we undertake. You may wish to check out the Training FAQ and Training Courses pages. There is also a one-day course "Introduction to the Profession of Art Therapy" designed for potential entrants to the profession. and a new "Art Therapy Foundation Course" suitable for potential entrants and healthcare workers who want to gain a better understanding of Art within a care context.

See NHS video "Careers in Art Therapy" on YouTube:

 

 

What is an Art Therapist?

Art Therapists are trained in the psychology of mark making and symbolism, in non-verbal communication, psychotherapeutic understanding of child development and family dynamics, and the importance of boundaries. They recognise that image making is an extremely potent activity and aim to use their visual and psychotherapeutic literacy to enable change with those with whom they work. The ways in which they do this vary according to the client/patient group or individual, the context, and the therapist. There is, however, always an emphasis on creativity and the therapeutic relationship. (see "What Art Therapy clients say")Also see our section on "What is Art Therapy?".What is an Art Therapist?

Art Therapists are trained in the psychology of mark making and symbolism, in non-verbal communication, psychotherapeutic understanding of child development and family dynamics, and the importance of boundaries. They recognise that image making is an extremely potent activity and aim to use their visual and psychotherapeutic literacy to enable change with those with whom they work. The ways in which they do this vary according to the client/patient group or individual, the context, and the therapist. There is, however, always an emphasis on creativity and the therapeutic relationship. (see "What Art Therapy clients say")Also see our section on "What is Art Therapy?".

Art Therapists work in various settings including caring for patients with cancer. Michele Wood, an art therapist who works with adults and children living with life-threatening illnesses at the Marie Curie Cancer Care Hospice in Hampstead, describes her "day in the life of an art therapist".

Historical Information

In the late 1940s Art Therapists began to be employed in the NHS, as for many years previously Psychiatrists and Psychoanalysts had found drawings and paintings to be a valuable contribution to the therapeutic process.

Between the 1940s and 1960s, many interested artists and art teachers offered their services to hospitals and clinics. Sometimes they encountered a Consultant Psychiatrist or a Medical Superintendent who was enthusiastic about the value of art in treatment; they were then taken onto the staff and paid under whatever establishment was available.

The profession of Art Therapy has developed considerably from this informal beginning, and now several universities offer training in Art Psychotherapy at post graduate level. The courses are two years full time and three years part time. During training students are required to undertake personal therapy.

In June 1980 the DHSS recognised that no one can be employed as an Art Therapist without having graduated from a recognised course related to the therapeutic application of their skills. In 1990 the National Joint Council for Social Services also recognised the qualification.

State Registration

In March 1997 State Registration for Art Therapists was granted, along with that for Drama and Music Therapists, under the Council for Professions Supplementary to Medicine (CPSM), which has become the Health Professions Council (HPC).

Once qualified the Art Therapists must apply for Registration to the HPC before they can practice. Only Art Therapists who have registered with BAAT and gained registration from the HPC can be known to be practising the standards we, as a professional body, uphold. The British Association of Art Therapists Code of Practice requires that supervision from a recognised supervisor be regularly taken of the therapist's clinical practice.

It is illegal to practice as an Art Therapist or Art Psychotherapist in the UK unless registered with the Health Professions Council.

Continuing Professional Development

To comply with the Code of Ethics, Art Therapists are required to undertake Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

The renewal of State Registration is linked to demonstrating achievement of professional competences.

It is now mandatory for Art Therapists to undertake CPD. The first audit of CPD activities for Art Therapists was undertaken by the HPC in 2010. For further guidance, see BAAT guidelines on CPD. 

Clinical Supervision

Art Therapists' clinical work is required to be supervised either weekly, fortnightly or at a minimum monthly, depending on experience and the amount of patient/client weekly contact. For instance, if working with children, weekly to fortnightly supervision is required, and when working with adults the number of patients/clients seen each week and the patient/client group should be taken into consideration. Supervisors are required to have psycho-dynamic or compatible training and will have undergone personal therapy as part of their training.

Art Therapists work in a variety of settings:

  • The NHS and Private Health Sector
  • Children, Adolescent, Adult and Older Aged Services
  • Forensic Medicine and the Prison Service
  • Palliative Care and Hospices
  • Special and Mainstream Education
  • Learning Disabilities and with Autistic Spectrum Disorder
  • Head and Stroke Injuries
  • Drug and Alcohol Services
  • Social Service (SS)
  • The Voluntary Sector, etc.

Employment

The fact that varying authorities employ Art Therapists does complicate things with regard to salaries and career structure.

Art Therapists working within the NHS have gone through the 'Agenda for Change' process and most have been graded at Band 7, with senior clinicians/managers graded at Band 8. (see Department of Health web site for current pay rates)

Newly qualified graduates are paid from the second incremental grading point. Art Therapists in Special Education are paid according to the Special Education Burnham rates. Art Therapists working in Adult Education are also paid on the Burnham rates. Art Therapists working in Social Services are generally employed at officer level. Sessional workers are entitled to and must be paid in accordance with BAAT Guidelines for Sessional Workers, 2002.

Art Therapists' career and salary structures are presently under review by the Department of Health and by the Allied Health Professions Council. New Guidelines will be available in 2003.

Training

The Art Therapy training courses are at Masters level and are completed over two years full time or three years part time. Applicants are usually graduates in Art and Design or qualified art teachers, although other graduates are sometimes considered exceptionally. Many Universities require that prior to training the applicant will have completed a set number of hours working with those who have mental health difficulties, disabilities or related problems. Trainees are obliged to undertake personal therapy during the whole of their training and to complete 120 days clinical placement over the duration of the course. Concurrently, academic understanding related to psychotherapeutic and psychological development of the child and their family grouping are demonstrated through module essays, culminating in a thesis. It follows that trainees of Art Therapy should be mature, flexible persons who often have experience of working in the health service, education or community before embarking on post graduate training.

You are advised to contact the Training institutions for further details via the links on this website.

Post Graduate Training Courses

See our Complete list of training courses. Full details and syllabus are available from the institutions directly. In addition, there are facilities to study to Doctorate level. Enquiries should be made to individual Heads of Art Therapy courses. More >>.

Short Courses

Non-qualifying introduction and foundation courses in Art Therapy are run by various institutions. BAAT recommends that these courses should always be run by qualified Art Therapists who are HPC registered and members of BAAT.

Short course details are circulated to BAAT members through Newsbriefing and the ebulletin or can be accessed by contacting the universities directly.

See also our own Short Courses section for CPD courses, workshops and our Events section for conferences and other events.

Further information