Occasionally I get the question “what credentials to you need to have to be an art therapist?”, and I find myself stuck between wanting to elaborate for hours on the minute specifics of my educational history and wanting to just say that I went to school for it. It is a fine balance between being open and not boring people to tears!
However, I do think it is important that people know that becoming an art therapist is a fairly intensive process, and that not just anyone can call themselves an art therapist. In today’s post, I will be giving a rundown on what it takes to become an art therapist in Canada! Please note that I am speaking from my experience – there may be slight variations in these steps for different art therapists.
- A Bachelor’s Degree.
Many art therapists will have either a psychology or an art degree, but this degree can be in anything as long as certain psychology prerequisites are fulfilled (personality, counselling skills, abnormal psych, etc.) and as long as there is some kind of familiarity with art. Personally, I did a degree in Psychology and did a few courses in Fine Arts – in addition to my personal art practice and a general interest in art.
- Acceptance into an accredited institution that offers an art therapy diploma program.
There are a number of art therapy institutions across Canada – I went to the Vancouver Art Therapy Institute (VATI). The application process to these institutions is quite involved, requiring an art portfolio, a personal autobiography, three reference letters, course prerequisites, and a statement including your professional background and intentions for art therapy. There are three different types of art therapy programs – a diploma program (just requires a BA), an advanced diploma program (for those who already have a Master’s degree), and a Master’s program (the only place that offers this is in Canada is Concordia university in Quebec). I did the general diploma program, as I am considering doing a Master’s degree in Counselling at some point.
- Get 700 hours of practicum experience.
This one is a doozy – 700 hours is no small feat! Generally, student art therapists are placed in an elementary school for their first practicum, and may add on various other practicums depending on their personal populations of interest. I did my practicums at an elementary school, a neighbourhood house, at two therapeutic kid’s camps, at VATI’s on-site art therapy clinic, and at a home for people with disabilities. These practicums allowed me to gain hands-on experience, make connections, and left me feeling like I could graduate with the skills to practice art therapy.
- Write a thesis/final project.
Yet another arduous task! My thesis was 80 pages long and took approx 7-8 months from start to finish. Student art therapists can choose a topic based on their interests, which makes the process a little less painful. My thesis was about self-care and flourishing.
- Art Therapy Coursework.
There are approximately 15 months of coursework for a diploma program, including theoretical courses, interventions, special topics, ethics, and professional practice. There is also a studio class where students make art and experience being in group therapy, as well as a supervision class where students can discuss issues that are coming up in practicum placements.
- Diploma in Art Therapy.
Coursework + thesis + 700 practicum hours + blood,sweat,tears = graduation! Upon graduation, I was able to call myself an art therapist, was able to start practicing, and had D.V.A.T.I. (Diploma from VATI) behind my name.
- Professional Membership and Registration.
Upon graduation, most art therapists will opt to become members of either the Canadian Art Therapy Association, their provincial art therapy association (in my case, the BC Art Therapy Association), or both! As a professional member of these associations, the art therapist is checked out by the association (reference letters, transcripts, etc), and is listed on an online directory. Once the art therapist has 1000 hours of experience, they can become a registered member, in which case the D.V.A.T.I. behind their name would change to show that they are a registered art therapist (RCAT, BC-AT, etc.). Both registered and professional art therapists can practice freely in the community.
Hopefully that wasn’t information overload! I know when I am choosing a professional of any kind, I like to know that they have recognized credentials and have had adequate training – I wanted to be sure this information about art therapists was available to the public. It certainly wasn’t when I was first considering art therapy as a profession! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me or comment below!