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Mission Statement

The mission of the American Art Therapy Association is to advocate for expansion of access to professional art therapists and lead the nation in the advancement of art therapy as a regulated mental health and human services profession.

 Adopted August 2016  

Vision Statement

The services of licensed, culturally proficient art therapists are available to all individuals, families, and communities.

Collaborations with Other Organizations

The American Art Therapy Association is committed to allocating resources wisely to participate in collaborative partnerships with organizations in order to positively impact its membership and the profession of art therapy. The Association will form and continue collaborations with partner organizations that maintain common goals of integrity, credibility, and protection of the public.

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is an integrative mental health profession that combines knowledge and understanding of human development and psychological theories and techniques with visual arts and the creative process to provide a unique approach for helping clients improve psychological health, cognitive abilities, and sensory-motor functions. Art therapists use art media, and often the verbal processing of produced imagery, to help people resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight.

Art therapy has the unique ability to unlock emotional expression by facilitating non-verbal communication. This is especially useful in cases where traditional psychotherapy has been ineffectual. Art and art making are inherently perceptually and sensory based and involve the brain and the body in ways that verbal language does not. Art therapy provides an alternative means of communicating for those who cannot find the words to express anxiety, pain or emotions as a result of trauma, combat, physical abuse, loss of brain function, depression, and other debilitating health conditions.

Although use of visual imagery is the foundational tenet of art therapy, art therapists uniquely draw from multiple theoretical approaches in their understanding, design, and implementation of treatment. Art therapists understand the science of imagery and the therapeutic potentials of color, texture, and various art media and how these affect a wide range of potential clients and personalities. Rigorous clinical training in working with individuals, families, and groups prepare art therapists to make parallel assessments of clients’ general psychological disposition and how art as a process is likely to moderate conditions and corresponding behavior. Recognizing the ability of art and art-making to reveal thoughts and feelings, and knowledge and skill to safely manage the reactions they may evoke, are competencies that define art therapy as a profession.

Who benefits from art therapy?

Art therapy is action-oriented and experience-based. Such inherent qualities differentiate it from other forms of therapy and make it particularly effective for a variety of client populations. Art therapists work with individuals, couples, families and groups in diverse settings, including hospitals, schools, psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities, community mental health clinics, wellness centers, forensic institutions, crisis centers, senior communities, veteran’s clinics, juvenile facilities, correctional institutions and other community facilities. The methods and treatment objectives of art therapy differ depending on the setting and client population

How do I become an art therapist?

National requirements for professional entry into the practice of art therapy include, at minimum, a master’s degree and extensive post-graduate clinical experience under the supervision of credentialed art therapists—a process which typically requires a minimum of four years. Some art therapists also have a doctorate degree. Because of the uniqueness of the study and practice of art therapy, practitioners must be trained within approved art therapy master’s degree programs recognized by the American Art Therapy Association (AATA). Through the Educational Program Approval Board (EPAB), the Association has approved thirty-nine art therapy master’s degree programs at thirty-five accredited colleges and universities in twenty states and the District of Columbia.

Art therapy master’s level education requires a minimum of 60 semester credit hours of graduate level coursework that includes training in studio art (drawing, painting, sculpture, etc.), the creative process, psychological development, group therapy, art therapy assessment, psychodiagnostics, research methods, and multicultural diversity competence. Students must also complete 100 hours of supervised practicum, and 600 hours of supervised art therapy clinical internship. The art therapy graduate curriculum is uniquely guided by the premise that focused art-making constitutes reflective practice and facilitates learning.

How are credentials approved and maintained?

In addition to rigorous academic and clinical training, professional entry also requires a credential from the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB). The ATCB administers the national art therapy proficiency examination and sets the parameters of ethical practice of art therapy with the ATCB Code of Professional Practice. Following completion of the master’s degree, graduates of approved programs must complete 1000 hours of direct client contact, with 100 hours of direct supervision, to be eligible to apply to ATCB for the ATR (Art Therapist, Registered) credential. Those who subsequently pass the ATCB proficiency examination become Board Certified and hold the ATR-BC credential.

The ATCB’s mission is “to protect the public by promoting the competent and ethical practice of art therapy through the credentialing of art therapy professionals.” The ATCB is an independent organization from the American Art Therapy Association and the Educational Programs Approval Board.

How do I find a qualified art therapist?

Credentialed art therapists who meet the high level of education and experience required for the profession can be located through Find-a-Therapist or the American Art Therapy Association’s Art Therapist Locator. Credentials of a practitioner can be verified through the Art Therapy Credentials Board.

The American Art Therapy Association supports federal and state policies, legislation, regulations, judicial actions, and initiatives that encourage, promote, and support efforts to gain a professional art therapy license and licensure of art therapists.

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