Art therapist apprenticeship (what is it and how to get one)

Updated 19 April 2023

Art therapy is a type of therapeutic counselling in which a therapist encourages a client to express their thoughts and feelings through art. For individuals with an interest in both psychology and visual art, this might be an interesting career path to consider. If you're interested in beginning a career in this field, learning about art therapy apprenticeship opportunities might help you get started.

In this article, we explain what an art therapist does, review what an art therapist apprenticeship is, describe how to get one, list relevant professional skills and explore careers in art therapy you can consider after completing an apprenticeship.

What does an art therapist do?

Art therapists use extensive knowledge of psychology and counselling practices to devise and implement activities that use visual art to help clients progress in their therapy journey. Specifically, this technique might help patients better understand and express their feelings. It can also help them understand their experiences in a new way and find new solutions to the challenges they experience. These challenges can include learning differences, challenges with speech, developing social skills, processing past trauma or recovering from substance dependence. An art therapist might use methods such as:

  • drawing

  • painting

  • sculpting

  • collaging

  • photography

Other duties for these individuals may include:

  • improving knowledge of mental health and behavioural differences

  • leading discussions with clients to learn more about their situation and form a working relationship

  • researching and testing art projects

  • guiding clients through art exercises

  • helping clients understand what they discover during the activities

  • diagnosing clients

  • attaining and maintaining art supplies

  • collaborating with dance, drama, music or writing therapy specialists to create a wholistic creative therapy programme for clients

  • taking notes and updating patient files

Related: What does a therapist do? (Responsibilities and skills)

What's an art therapist apprenticeship?

Before you find a job as an art therapist, you might develop your skills and your professional network by completing an art therapist apprenticeship. This type of training can help beginner art therapists learn new techniques, understand how to interact with clients and develop their confidence. As part of an apprenticeship, you might do the following:

  • Shadow professional art therapists.

  • Assist with art demonstrations.

  • Sit in on counselling sessions.

  • Create practice lesson plans.

  • Lead individual or small group sessions.

How to find an apprenticeship for art therapy

If you're ready to get started in your art therapist career, here are some steps you can take to get started by finding an apprenticeship:

1. Learn more about the role

Before beginning your journey as an art therapist, it can be helpful to learn more about what these individuals do. This can help you determine if the career is a good fit for your needs. It might also help you pick a specialisation or determine where you'd like to pursue your education, both of which might impact which apprenticeships you choose to pursue.

You can also research the art therapist requirements in your area. Different regions might have different professional requirements. By doing some research, you can create a plan for how to complete the appropriate training or pursue a licence in your area.

Related: 9 jobs with painting (including duties and requirements)

2. Complete university education

Some might choose to pursue an apprenticeship early in their educational careers to determine if art therapy is the best option to meet their professional desires. Others may complete an apprenticeship as one of the final steps in an educational career to gain the practical experience to prepare for their first art therapy job outside of school. Many art therapist apprenticeships require some level of education that can prepare candidates for the work they're likely to do before taking part in the apprenticeship.

You might consider earning a baccalaureate degree in either psychology or visual art. You can also pursue education in related fields, like neuroscience, biology or sociology. After earning this degree, you can advance to a postgraduate degree in art therapy. The coursework for this degree may include training in the following:

  • art therapy history

  • advanced psychological studies

  • the creative process

  • group therapy

  • diagnosis and assessment

  • research methods

  • psychological differences and development

Related: How to become an art therapist: skills, qualifications and FAQs

3. Build your professional network

Networking can help you find an apprenticeship and connect with professional therapists in your field. This may help you learn more about the career and find job opportunities in the future. You can build your network by attending industry events like talks, conferences or journal clubs. You can also build your network online by connecting with individuals via professional networking websites or social media.

Related: 19 types of therapists (with key responsibilities)

4. Do volunteer work

Volunteering can be a great way to gain experience working with individuals with mental, emotional or behavioural differences. This can help prepare you for your work as an art therapist by building your confidence and allowing you to practice interacting with patients. You might choose to volunteer with a specific group that you hope to continue working with in the future. This might include:

  • neurodivergent individuals

  • a specific age group of children or adults

  • individuals in recovery from eating disorders or substance use

  • individuals with learning or speech differences

  • low-income individuals

You might also look for a volunteering opportunity in a work environment that you hope to return to as an art therapist. This may help you build an understanding of how that environment functions and develop professional relationships within those systems that may help you find a job when you finish your education and training. These environments include:

  • primary or secondary schools

  • community centres

  • elderly communities

  • hospitals

  • private therapy practices

  • prisons

  • women's shelters

  • university settings

Related: 10 jobs working with special needs (with salaries)

5. Apply to an apprenticeship

Begin by researching apprenticeship programmes and rating using information about their educational focus, professional environment and length. You can also consider the professional connections that apprenticeship might help you make, or reach out to individuals you admire in your existing professional network to see if they know of any apprenticeship opportunities.

Once you determine the apprenticeships that you're most interested in, you can assemble your application materials. This might include a personal essay, academic records, reference letters and a professional resume. Consider asking a friend or colleague to proofread your application materials to ensure they're professional and error-free.

Related: Everything you need to know about how to become a therapist

Art therapist skills

To become an art therapist, you might benefit from developing both hard and soft skills that are relevant to your line of work. Hard skills are the professional abilities that you might use on a day-to-day basis as an art therapist. These hard skills may include:

  • knowledge of psychology

  • therapy tactics

  • visual art proficiency in one or more areas

  • customer service skills

  • reading and writing skills

  • basic computer abilities

You can also develop soft skills that might help you excel in art therapy. Soft skills are the personality traits that can help an individual do well in a particular area. An art therapist's soft skills might include:

  • patience

  • communication

  • listening skills

  • sensitivity

  • flexibility

Related: Life coach vs. therapist: duties, skills and requirements

Careers in art therapy

Completing an apprenticeship in art therapy might help prepare you for a variety of therapeutic careers. Here are a few to consider:

1. ABA therapist

Find ABA therapist medicine counsellor jobs

National average salary: £32,256 per year

Primary duties: Applied behaviour analyst (ABA) therapists focus on patients with behavioural differences, including those on the autism spectrum. Their goal is often to help these individuals integrate into society and develop the ability to pursue their social and professional goals successfully. They may interview patients, take notes during sessions and create plans for addressing patient behaviour.

Related: How to become a behaviour analyst (with responsibilities)

2. Behavioural therapist

Find behavioural therapist jobs

National average salary: £42,086 per year

Primary duties: Behavioural therapists help treat patients' mental health differences, allowing them to better understand and improve their thought and behaviour patterns. These therapists might work with clients experiencing addiction, anxiety, depression, phobia or other behavioural challenges. Specific duties may include creating and implementing therapy options, like exposure therapy, and contributing to related research in the field of behavioural psychology.

Related: What is behavioural psychology? (How it's used and why)

3. Social worker

Find social worker jobs

National average salary: £42,837 per year

Primary duties: Social workers collaborate with clients to help them solve challenges relating to daily living. These challenges may relate to those individuals' mental, behavioural, familial or socioeconomic situation. Social workers can coordinate resources for clients, including access to services like housing, food, counselling and medical care. They may also monitor client progress to help them continue to access relevant resources as their situation develops.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and the candidate's experience, academic background and location.


  • 14 Higher National Certificate art jobs to explore


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