Like many occupations, there’s much more to the career of art therapist than meets the eye. While the helping and creative aspects of this profession make it appealing to many people, it isn’t the right fit for everyone – or even, for that matter, for everyone with an interest in art or in helping. If there are aspects of the art therapist career that interest you but you aren’t sure that it’s precisely the right fit for you, these other related careers might be a better option.
Careers in the Arts
If it’s the art part of the art therapy occupation, rather than the clinical practice, a different career in the arts might provide the creative potential you’re seeking. There’s a good chance that you have considered life as an artist. Although the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a respectable median salary of $48,960 for craft and fine artists, this career path is risky. Many artists earn well below that median wage, often creating and earning income for their works of art only part-time.
If the lack of stability found in a career as an artist worries you, other careers involving the visual arts, such as animator, graphic designer and art director, may provide more security. The BLS reports a median salary of $72,520 for animators, $50,370 for graphic designers and $92,780 for the management-level role of art director. Of course, in these and other art-making roles in which you work for someone else, you don’t have the same degree of creative freedom as you would when making art solely for the purposes of your own expression. Instead, whether you are creating visuals for movies or company logos, you’re bringing to life someone else’s vision, not your own.
Not all arts careers revolve around creating art. You may also tap into your passion for art in a profession that involves art education or preservation. Art teachers at the elementary school level earn a median wage of $55,860, while those at the secondary school level make a median salary of $57,200. You may also teach art at a private institution or arts organization. Curators, conservators and other museum workers play a role in exhibiting art, including preserving masterpieces. For these professionals, the BLS reports a median wage of $48,400.
The benefits of these other art occupations include not needing the studies in research and clinical experience required of aspiring art therapists and not having to perform assessments, write treatment plans and handle billing and insurance paperwork.
Counseling and Therapy Careers
Perhaps you know that you want to help people cope with mental health issues and difficult life changes and challenges, but you’re not sure art is the primary way you want to approach this goal. Counselors and therapists can incorporate artistic and creative expression into their repertoire of interventions and methods, even if they don’t pursue jobs specifically as art therapists. In fact, you can seek certifications such as the Registered Art Therapist designation from the Art Therapy Credentials Board with a background in psychology, general counseling, marriage and family therapy, addictions counseling and similar fields. However, you must complete specialized coursework and clinical experience requirements to do so.
The primary difference between art therapists and other types of counselors and therapists is specialization. Both art therapists and therapists in other areas strive to help people, require a master’s degree and are responsible for developing treatment plans and documenting progress notes. Counselors and therapists often do specialize in treating certain types of concerns or client populations, but they draw from a broader range of approaches and interventions that include psychotherapy and other forms of talk therapy.
In the broader field of counseling and therapy occupations, wages vary by job classification. Marriage and family therapists earn a median wage of $50,090 according to the BLS. For mental health and substance abuse counselors, the BLS reports a median salary of $44,630. Clinical social workers, who hold a master’s degree, earn a median wage of $54,870, according to U.S. News & World Report. Although psychologists earn a higher median salary at $79,010, they must complete more extensive educational requirements, the BLS reported.
Art therapists study counseling strategies and techniques other than those expressly related to art, as well, but given their specialized role, it would be unusual for an art therapist to focus on talk therapy only with a client.