In some professional fields, board certification is an absolute necessity to practice, while in others, it is purely optional. For art therapists, it is possible to practice in the field without acquiring board certification and even to attain full professional certification, but becoming board certified is highly encouraged. Some states require board certification as part of a licensure process, in which case not having it can make it impossible to legally practice in your state.
Credentials in Art Therapy
There are numerous levels of professional credentials available in the field of art therapy through the Art Therapy Credentials Board, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. The different types of credentials range from the Provisional Registered Art Therapist (ATR-Provisional) designation for therapists in training who are still accumulating supervised experience to those established therapists with extensive skills in providing clinical supervision. For the purposes of engaging in the clinical practice of art therapy, the most important designations are the Registered Art Therapist (ATR) certification and the Board Certified Art Therapist (ATR-BC) credential.
Both the Registered Art Therapist credential and the Board Certified Art Therapist credential require a master’s degree, prescribed coursework in art therapy and studio art and supervised clinical experience both before and after graduating. How Board certification differs from the lower-level credential of Registered Art Therapist is primarily through the requirement that candidates prove their skills and knowledge through taking a national exam.
Unless your state requires board certification specifically, you are qualified to work in clinical practice as a Registered Art Therapist. Board Certified Art Therapist is considered the highest available professional certification in the field.
The Board Certification Exam for Art Therapists
This exam, called the Art Therapy Credentials Board Examination (ATCBE), is a comprehensive test that challenges your professional knowledge of seven crucial subject areas ranging from concept to clinical practice. The categories of content include Intake and Evaluation, Clinical Skills and Application, Diagnoses and Populations, Professional Practice and Ethics, Theoretical Approaches, Assessment and Evaluation Instruments and Art Therapy Environment. The exam covers a total of 200 questions, takes four hours to complete, and has seen pass rates as high as 91 percent in recent years.
To make sure that the content of the exam stays relevant, the Art Therapy Credentials Board routinely surveys practicing art therapists and revises the text accordingly. Based on the results of its 2017 survey, the board adjusted the distribution of questions throughout subject areas. As of 2019, the subject of Intake and Evaluation accounted for the largest percentage of exam content, 22 percent, while the Art Therapy Environment subject area encompassed just six percent of exam questions.
Although the test includes 200 questions, 15 percent of those questions are unscored, presented to current test-takers to determine if they should be included as scored questions in future versions of the exam. As a result, your exam score is based on only 170 questions.
The Importance of Board Certification for Art Therapists
When potential employers see that you have attained the highest level of professional credential in the field of art therapy, it sets you apart from candidates who hold only the ATR designation. Similarly, if you choose to launch your own private practice in art therapy, potential clients will be more impressed by board certification than mere registration. As a result, getting board certified can improve your job prospects in both traditional employment and self-employment settings.
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Perhaps the most important aspect of board certification for art therapists is its potential impact on your ability to get a license to work in clinical practice. Because licensing requirements differ from one state to another, this matter may not be relevant to art therapists in all states. However, in certain states, including New York, New Mexico, Maryland and Kentucky, board certification through the Art Therapy Credentials Board is tied to state licensure procedures.
Achieving board certification is mandatory for obtaining a license to practice art therapy in some states, while it may be one of multiple paths to licensure in other states. Even if you don’t currently live or work in a state that requires board certification, it is often a good idea to pursue this credential, especially if you consider moving at any time during your professional life. Because the ATR-BC designation is a national credential, it carries weight across state lines that a simple state-issued license may not hold.
Not every state requires art therapists to hold a license, and some states have the same licensing requirements for art therapists as for other types of therapists.