If you decide to undertake graduate level education in art therapy or a closely related field with a specialization in art therapy [see previous post], one of your goals may be to work toward a credential in the field. By "credential" I mean one of several sets of letters you may become eligible for after graduation. In this installment, I will try to give you an overview of art therapy credentials in the United States and the United Kingdom. The former (US) will take quite a bit of explaining; the latter (UK) will be easier. Read on and you will see why.

In the US, graduates who meet the requirements set forth by the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB)can apply to become an Art Therapist Registered (ATR) and Board Certified Art Therapist (ATR-BC). The former demonstrates that you have certain educational standards; the latter is considered to be a designation of competency in the field because you have passed an examination. To learn more about these credentials, you should visit the Art Therapy Credentials Board; however, any competent professor who teaches art therapy coursework should be able to explain these credentials in detail.

You may also be able to obtain a license [a legal document in your state of residence that says you are given official permission to perform a service] after graduation. There is a license specifically for art therapists, but it exists in very few states [New Mexico, Kentucky, Maryland and Mississippi]. The designation is LPAT or similar designation and it stands for "licensed professional art therapist;" it title-protects and regulates the scope of practice of art therapy in those states. But If you live in WI, there is an ATRL designation and it is defined as a person registered as an art therapist who is granted a license to practice psychotherapy; in a nutshell, you are licensed as a psychotherapist in that state.

There's more, if you live in the state of NY. You'll encounter the LCAT there and it stands for "licensed creative arts therapist." In other words, all art, music, and other creative arts therapists are licensed under this designation. It is kind of a perplexing title because each type of "creative arts therapist" (art, music, dance, etc) has different educational standards, but all are included under one license. NY is the only state that has this license in the US.

Now I am going to get into some very confusing territory about becoming licensed. In recent years, art therapy master's level education hitched its wagon to the field of professional counseling, largely because most art therapy graduates did not have an option to become licensed and the ATR-BC was not a reliably reimbursable credential [aka: no pay]. So educational programs infused counseling coursework into their art therapy curriculums during this decade to meet competencies found in counseling license requirements on the state level. This means, depending upon the educational program, you may be eligible for the LPC [licensed professional counselor], LPCC [licensed professional clinical counselor], or LMHC [licensed mental health counselor]. But hold on-- if you study in California, you may become eligible for a license as a marriage and family therapist and/or the LPC [as California recently adopted a counselor license law].

Phew! Now for a considerably shorter explanation about art therapy credentials in another country-- the United Kingdom. The UK has contributed considerable literature to the field of art therapy over the last six or seven decades and has developed a process for becoming an art therapist in that country. The British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT) website summarizes the process to become an art therapist in the UK as follows: "In order to work as an art therapist in the National Health Service and Social Services, it is mandatory to possess the post-graduate Diploma in Art Therapy or Art Psychotherapy. Applicants for art therapy training should normally be graduates in art and design but qualified teachers, social workers, psychologists and other professionals with a commitment to the practice of the visual arts are also considered. All post-graduate courses in Art Therapy and Art Psychotherapy abide by standards set down by the Health Professions Council (HPC) and are approved by the council." In brief, once you complete the required art therapy course of training in the UK, you can apply for registration with the HPC and you can legally practice as an "art therapist" or "art psychotherapist" in that country. Period.

The UK system for education and eligibility to call oneself an art therapist has a single pathway for one major reason--"art therapist" is a recognized profession within the National Health System in the UK. In the US, art therapist is not universally recognized as a specific profession on the state level or the Federal level. As a result, a maze of art therapy credentials has emerged in knee-jerk reaction to an equally maze-like US healthcare system and in an effort to keep art therapy educational programs viable.

So by now you may be wondering, which if any of these sets of letters makes a difference in getting a job? Or in getting paid? Is getting a counseling license trumping art therapy certification? And is "art therapist" really a profession? More on these and other questions in the next post!

©2011 Cathy Malchiodi, PhD, LPAT, LPCC


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