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How to become a licensed creative arts therapist

17 January 2023

Many people make a conscious decision to pursue a career in mental health. This may be as a doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist or as a mental health nurse. There is certainly no shortage of professional pathways for mental health workers.

If you’re looking for a different avenue in the mental health field, becoming a licensed creative arts therapist is another career option. While people are familiar with the path to becoming a licensed creative arts therapist, they may not be aware of its connection to mental health work.

To address this, we will explore the following common questions around how to become a licensed creative arts therapist, including:

  • What does an art therapist do?
  • Are art therapists in demand?
  • How much do art therapists make in Australia?
  • How to become an art therapist in Australia?

What is an art therapist?

The premise behind creative art therapy is that creativity enhances the wellbeing of ourselves and those around us. It is a holistic approach that fosters emotional, cognitive, physical and spiritual wellbeing. Art can help address emotional issues that people find difficult to verbalise, allowing them to express themselves through movement and play.

Daily tasks and responsibilities may include:

  • preparing art therapy sessions that meet your client’s needs, either in a group therapy setting or a one-on-one session
  • helping your client set goals and objectives for their art therapy
  • exploring different art mediums, like paint, pencil, dance, clay or yarn
  • teaching your clients to express themselves using art
  • administering and interpreting diagnostic tests, which can help you work out the most appropriate treatment for your client
  • designing individual treatment plans that use a combination of different therapies, which may involve consulting other mental health professionals involved in your client’s care

In Australia, art therapy is self-regulated. The relevant body is the Australian, New Zealand and Asian Creative Arts Therapies Association (ANZACATA). ANZACATA provides accreditation to members with approved qualifications and through supervised training. When you meet those requirements, you become eligible to use the title ‘Registered Arts Therapist’.

A successful creative art therapist will have the following traits:

  • work experience in the arts
  • a non-judgmental attitude
  • an ability to relate to people, regardless of their background
  • a strong interest or background in psychology
  • creativity, intuition and imagination
  • empathy and patience, along with an ability to handle sensitive matters

How to become an art therapist in Australia

Are art therapists in demand?

The impact of COVID-19 on people’s mental health has been significant. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare partnered with the federal government’s Department of Health to report on the impacts.

Here are some of their findings:

  • Almost 11.5 million Medicare-subsidised mental health-related services were provided between 16 March 2020 and 24 January 2021.
  • Mental health-related prescriptions peaked in March 2020, with the introduction of restrictions.
  • During the four weeks prior to 24 January 2021, Beyond Blue had over 22,000 people contact them and Lifeline received more than 85,000 telephone calls.

The American Art Therapy Association reports that art therapists have worked hard during the pandemic. They adapted to the lockdowns by providing art therapy online to clients who were locked down at home.

During the pandemic, the American Art Therapy Association conducted a survey of art therapists. The majority of art therapists reported that their clients experienced anxiety during lockdowns.

This anxiety was due to a variety of factors, including:

  • isolation
  • financial pressures
  • homeschooling
  • wanting family members to remain healthy

Despite these struggles, COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of looking after one’s wellbeing. Many people turned to art and craft during the pandemic as an escape and to help with their mental health.

There have been various studies on the benefits of art therapy. Some studies have shown:

  • an 86 per cent reduction of physical and behavioural symptoms among chronically ill children
  • that people found crocheting to help them be calm and happy
  • that people also highlighted the calming effect of drawing

According to Seek, the projected job growth for art therapists is 15.2 per cent for the five years to 2027.

What is an art therapist

How much do art therapists make in Australia?

The average salary for an art therapist in Australia is $82,446.

Creative art therapists work in a variety of settings, such as:

  • private practice
  • community health
  • schools
  • mental health facilities
  • rehabilitation centres
  • the disability sector
  • the aged care sector
  • palliative care

Some creative art therapists work in a solo practice while others are members of a multidisciplinary team.

How to become an art therapist in Australia

Some of the common questions we receive about becoming an art therapist include:

  • Can I be an art therapist without a degree?
  • How do I become an art therapist in Australia?
  • What qualifications do I need to be an art therapist?

In Australia, creative arts therapy is self-regulated. This means that there’s no restriction on who can call themselves an art therapist or creative arts therapist.

However, employers and clients are likely to prefer a creative arts therapist who is qualified. This helps you build trust with both your potential employer and potential clients. What this means is that your employability will increase substantially if you graduate with suitable qualifications, such as a relevant undergraduate degree, plus completion of an ANZACATA-recognised masters degree.

Another benefit of having appropriate qualifications is being able to register with ANZACATA. As mentioned above, this will let you use the title of Registered Arts Therapist.

To support your art therapy career, SCU Online's Master of Mental Health will allow you to:

  • learn at your convenience without having to travel to lectures, given the Master of Mental Health is 100 per cent online
  • learn skills that you can use straight away, even before you graduate
  • receive comprehensive and up-to-date course material
  • receive dedicated and one-on-one support to ensure you succeed in all units
  • learn from clinically experienced mental health academics
  • be able to graduate in as little as two years while studying part-time, allowing you to work while you study
  • gain access to FEE-HELP

With six intakes per year, you can start studying at any time, something that many universities don’t offer.

How much do art therapists make in Australia

Are you ready to become a licensed creative arts therapist with evidence-based skills?

Pursue a rewarding role where you can positively affect the lives of many people.

Take the next step in your mental health career by enrolling in SCU Online’s Master of Mental Health.