Art therapists use art to help people of any age, who are experiencing physical, mental, emotional and social difficulties. They work with individuals or groups of clients in a safe, non-threatening environment. They do not judge the artistic standard of their clients’ work.
You could be:
assessing the needs of clients and deciding on the best approach to treatment
encouraging clients to express their feelings and emotions through painting, drawing or other art work
supporting clients as they create visual images, which may release distressing feelings, help them understand their problems and move on positively
working with clients one-to-one or in small groups using different materials such as paint, paper and clay
showing clients with speech problems how to use art as a form of communication
finding different ways to work with clients
working with medical staff to help diagnose mental or emotional disorders and identify problems
keeping up to date with paperwork, writing reports and case notes, making phone calls and sending letters to other organisations.
working with a client's family or carers to help them to understand the client's problems.
Art therapists within the NHS Agenda for Change start on Band 6, £33,072 to £40,736 a year. With experience this rises to Band 7, £40,872 to £47,846 a year. Principal art therapists are at Band 8a, £50,470 to £54,482 a year and Band 8b, £60,730 to £65,377 a year. The current pay scales are from April 2021.
Outside the NHS your income would vary according to whether you were freelance or employed.
You could work in hospitals, prisons, family centres, rehabilitation centres and additional support needs schools.
Working hours are normally regular, but you may need to do some evening work.
You could do part time or sessional work.
A lot of the work is on a temporary project basis so that when the project is coming to an end you would have to look for another job.
You need a degree, and a postgraduate qualification in art therapy approved by the British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT).
Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh offers an MSc in Art Psychotherapy (International). For entry you need a degree in visual arts. A degree in psychology, social work, nursing or teaching will be considered if supported by a substantial portfolio of artwork.
Entry requirements for degree courses are 4-5 Highers, usually including Art and Design.
You should ideally have one year's work experience or voluntary work in a health care, community or youth work setting.
The BAAT run Introduction to Art Therapy courses. This one day course may help you decide if this is the career for you. They also run a one-week Art Therapy Foundation course.
You will require a satisfactory criminal record check from Disclosure Scotland to show that you are suitable for this type of work. Contact Disclosure Scotland for details on the type you would need.
When you complete the postgraduate course in art therapy you gain membership of the BAAT and UK state registration with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). You need this to work in the National Health Service (NHS) or with a local authority.
For some applicants this is a second career.
This is a small profession and entry is competitive. Most art therapists work in the NHS but some work for local authority social work departments or voluntary organisations. This is also an expanding area in mainstream education and is developing in the museums and galleries sector. Other art therapists work freelance and are paid fees rather than a regular salary. Work is often based on fixed-term projects.
The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) is the UK-wide regulatory body responsible for setting and maintaining standards of professional training, performance and conduct in the following health care professions: Arts Therapists; Audiologist; Biomedical Scientist; Chiropodist and Podiatrist; Clinical Scientist; Dietician; Dramatherapist; Occupational Therapist; Operating Department Practitioner; Orthoptist; Paramedic; Physiotherapist; Practitioner Psychologist; Prosthetist and Orthotist; Radiographer; Speech and Language Therapist. (The HCPC may regulate other healthcare professions in the future.) The HCPC website contains a register of all approved courses in the above professions.