Two years ago, I addressed the oft-asked question, “Can I get an art therapy job?” As I said back then, art therapy is a mental health field that also in part involves art and any career field that involves art always comes with career challenges. So I noted that you need to be prepared because finding a financially viable career as an art therapist may not be so easy as your academic advisers say it is.
I also wrote that the focus of art therapy graduate programs has consistently turned to counselor license eligibility for graduates because art therapy is not a licensed profession in most states in the US. The hypothetical outcome is the expansion of job possibilities for graduates to apply their art therapy skills under the job title of “counselor.” It also has become a way for art therapy graduate programs to compete for students by essentially offering a “two for the price of one” option. In brief, the story is that students have eligibility upon graduation to become a licensed counselor [depending on the state where you want to live and work] and a credentialed art therapist.
Fast-forward to 2013 and what I wrote two years ago remains basically the same. In fact, more art therapy graduate programs are transforming themselves into masters of counseling degrees with art therapy specializations than ever before. The objective of these changes is to increase eligibility for graduates to become licensed as professional or mental health counselors with license portability across state lines.
But while it may be helpful to have the ability to obtain dual credentials in both counseling and art therapy, it has not necessarily created more art therapy positions in the workforce. It might be argued that those graduates who obtain a counseling license, post-graduation, have more options for employment than those grads who only hold an art therapy degree or an art therapy credential. It is probably true that there are more job opportunities in mental health and healthcare for these graduates. But it is not necessarily a scenario that matches why most students undertake art therapy studies in the first place— to fulfill a vision for a career as a professional whose central function is to be an art therapist, not a counselor, case manager or other helping professional who may or may not use art therapy in their work. They base their decision on programs' websites that promote an outcome of becoming an art therapist through colorful art images and stories about art therapy as a career.
I don’t think that the professional art therapy community is really fully aware of the dynamics that this scenario has created. As more graduates with hopes for the proverbial art therapist career are pumped out into the marketplace, there is a growing sense of frustration and often betrayal when finding a full-time job as an art therapist is difficult at best, not to mention student loan debt. Meanwhile, because of the movement to counseling masters degrees for art therapy studies, the fields of professional, mental health and school counseling have become more interested in applying and adapting art therapy techniques. “Creativity in counseling” continues to be one of the largest special interest groups in the American Counseling Association (ACA); there is even a “clearinghouse of creative interventions” being rolled out this year as a joint project of the ACA and the Association for Creativity in Counseling. These types of developments blur the line of whether or not art therapy is a circumscribed profession or simply an approach within counseling and psychology like cognitive-behavioral, dialectal behavioral and other similar therapies.
But please don’t lose heart if you truly want to be an art therapist. My intent in writing this post and those that will follow is to explore and explain the obstacles currently facing this field and why they have remained largely unaddressed. I also will identify a number of ways you can manifest your vision for using art in service of others, whether it be through formal study as an art therapist or alternate pathways. I really do believe that the world needs more of us who recognize how art can change lives and, despite the challenges, it is still a worthwhile journey.
Cathy Malchiodi, PhD, LPAT, ATR-BC, LPCC
© 2013 Cathy Malchiodi
Check out my TEDx Talk at http://youtu.be/yHu6909NTTc.
For more information about art therapy, visit this page of podcasts at http://www.cathymalchiodi.com/art-therapy-books/podcasts-films/.