Curious about creative arts therapy? We have a lot to say on this topic.

What are the creative arts therapies?

We like to think of arts therapy as a creative alternative to traditional talk psychotherapy. Instead of the client-therapist relationship being confined strictly to language, at our group practice therapy is conducted in art rooms where clients are welcome to create during their sessions. Art and other forms of creative expression can function as therapeutic catalysts for personal/interpersonal development, self exploration and mental health maintenance. Of course, all of our therapists are happy to provide traditional psychotherapy or talk therapy, but we like to operate outside the box and encourage our clients to do the same.

*We sometimes use the term "arts therapy" to discuss the broader profession of "creative arts therapies" which include art, drama, dance, movement, music and poetry.

What brought you to the field of creative arts therapy?

Drena: Disillusionment with the field of advertising and commercial art , where cilents would order rush jobs and spend money equivalent to my annual salary to change a background from baby blue to a silghtly darker baby blue. I felt compelled to seek out something that would bring more value to the world and to me.   I subscribed to an art therapy journal while still working in the corporate world and was moved by the articles demonstrating how art making was used to help people overcome life challenges. I knew how much achieving a "flow" in art enriched my own life. Curiosity got the best of me and I applied to graduate school. I was hooked. It's the most creative job I've ever had.

Nadia: While I was always drawn to artmaking, I didn’t connect with the idea of making art alone. I discovered the field of creative arts therapy through a chance encounter with a music therapist, who described working with children of war. I will never forget the anecdote she shared: A little boy who had severe flashbacks of the Bosnian war, played out the sound of "bombs" on a piano, and his symptoms disappeared. The notion of making art with people who had been wounded emotionally made sense to me: I researched the field and it became clear that this was what I should be doing. 

Mark: Theatre and performance were a cornerstone to my development as a person, and continue to be. I have never felt more alive or present than when I am singing, doing theatre or making art of some kind. I started off wanting to be a school psychologist, until I learned that drama therapy existed. It was the perfect combination of the two things I loved most, helping people through theatre. I started to learn more, found a mentor in psychodrama as an undergrad (double major theatre and psychology), and researched graduate schools. I took two years to work in social services in NYC first before going to graduate school, to get some “real life” experience and to make sure I wanted to pursue this career. It is not without it’s challenges, but I feel proud and inspired by my career choice and path. 

Cheryl: I always knew I wanted to do something extraordinary with my life but wasn’t quite sure what it could be. Starting from middle school, I spent my summers volunteering at a camp for handicapped children. This work foreshadowed the desire to continue to help others, which I started to feel in my twenties while in the midst of a budding career in fashion. After leaving fashion to attend Pratt Institute's graduate program for Creative Arts Therapy and Creativity Development, I finally felt like all my passions blended seamlessly into one career. Being an Art Therapist also means being able to think outside the box, which inspired me to create projects through Children’s World Art Initiative (CWA). CWA has granted me the ability to travel the world, collaborate with other organizations and teach others how using art as a form of communication and therapeutic support in places like Namibia, South Africa and Jordan.

Many people are interested in learning more about becoming an creative arts therapists. Below are the answers to some commonly asked questions.

I am interested in the field of art therapy and I would like to see how art therapists work. Could I volunteer or intern at your group practice or simply observe sessions?

If you are interested in entering the field of art therapy, it makes sense that you would like to conduct some healthy research before signing up for a Master’s level graduate degree, however, observing art therapy sessions at our practice is not an option. All clients who come to us are protected by confidentiality laws that prohibit third parties to observe therapeutic sessions. In addition to this, all of our therapists operate under a strict code of ethics that ensures that clients are treated in ways that protects their personal and emotional safety in all ways possible. Having a volunteer or intern observe a client’s individual, group or family therapy sessions would compromise the therapeutic work that we do. Though we do not offer volunteer opportunities, there are some art therapy organizations that do allow students or interested parties to volunteer their talents and time to community-based art therapy projects. Free Arts NYC is one such organization. For further information about the field of art therapy, The American Association for Art Therapists can be a helpful resource. At New York Creative Arts Therapists we offer internships strictly to art therapy students in their second year of graduate school.

If you are already in a mental health or social service field, please sign up for our  e-mail updates here. We regularly offer workshops, trainings and classes on how to integrate the creative arts into therapeutic work. This may be a place to start if you are thinking of changing tracks or pursuing additional training.

I am trying to decide between degrees in a creative arts therapy or social work —do you have any advice?

Your decision of which degree to pursue is likely to have a tremendous impact on your career. Though comparable, both professions offer different, albeit nuanced professional paths. Overall, art therapy offers a more focused course of study and practice, with most prospective art therapy students choosing to enter the field in order to become art therapists offering direct services to individuals, families or groups. Social work, on the other hand, is a field that, from the onset, offers a broader spectrum of career paths. Social work students may aspire to work with clients directly as service providers, or indirectly as advocates for disenfranchised groups. If you are intent on mastering the ability to wield arts-based approaches in your therapeutic work with clients and you feel fueled by the notion of using the creative arts in your day-to-day job, perhaps art therapy is the career for you. As an art therapist, creative materials and faculties make up the therapeutic arsenal you employ in helping clients reach therapeutic goals. While art therapists integrate talk therapy into their work, they are also trained in the realm of nonverbal communication which can be useful in accessing emotional content and instrumental in working with particular populations.

Another, perhaps helpful point of comparison is that the field of art therapy is still relatively young in comparison to the field of social work. Due to this, finding work as a creative arts therapists sometimes requires... well, creativity. Whereas job search sites are saturated with social work jobs, it takes more research to find art therapy positions and, at times, resourcefulness to create such positions.

Conversely, the field of social work is more established. This is to say, social work has been around longer, society at large is more familiar with the practice of social work, and, the field has a far more populous work force and a greater breadth of practice. Social work is a field that specializes in addressing the barriers and injustices that exist in society and social workers use a variety of techniques to help the person within the context of their environment. Some social workers move on to practice therapy or case work. In such cases, social workers frequently move on to become Licensed Clinical Social Workers. Other social workers choose to work at a more macro level; as policy writers, community organizers and administrators.

Does someone need a license to practice art therapy?

All Creative Arts Therapists are required to be licensed in NY State in order to work in the therapeutic capacity. The license that art therapists pursue is called the LCAT, which stands for Licensed Creative Arts Therapist. The LCAT license is used not only by art therapists, but also by drama, music, dance and movement, and poetry therapists.

How long does it take to become an art therapist?

It takes, in the very least, three years to become an art therapist. If you have all of the required undergraduate prerequisites to enroll in a Master’s degree program in art therapy and you are able to complete the Master’s level degree as a full-time student, your studies should take two years. Then, as a student you are required to complete three semesters worth of hands-on internship experience. Once you have completed your degree and are employed full-time under a limited LCAT permit, you would only need one additional year (making it three in total) before you qualify to take your art therapy licensure exam. Upon passing the exam, you are mailed your official LCAT license.

Do you need to be an artist to be an art therapist? Do you have to be an actor to be a drama therapist?

To be a skilled art therapist you would need to demonstrate competency and proficiency in using art materials. You need not be a talented artist. This being said, it is important that you be able to manipulate a wide variety of art materials skillfully in order to facilitate therapeutically-informed directives with your clients. Similarly, drama therapists, though they need not be talented actors, must show a level of competence in theater. In fact, an audition forms part of the drama therapy Masters level application process.

I really love working with children, is this profession a good choice for someone like me?

There exists a misconception that art therapists work solely with children. This is not the case. As a matter of fact, greater than 50% of our clients at New York Creative Arts Therapists are adults. Pursuing a degree in art therapy is, in our opinion, not about working with a particular population. We see it more as a commitment to helping people work with complex human issues in a competent way while using art as a vehicle for work. If this is your passion, then this profession sounds like it might be a good fit for you.

For more information regarding the practical steps for becoming an Art Therapist, or what to expect in working as an art therapy, we would like to refer you to The American Association of Art Therapist’s website, arttherapy.org. AATA does a good job at detailing the academic and practice requirements necessary for enrolling in a graduate art therapy program or ultimately leading up to licensure (which is required for all persons wishing to practice art therapy). To learn more about Drama Therapy visit the North American Drama Therapy Association nadta.org website.