Many people outside the profession don’t appreciate just how much goes into becoming an art therapist. While the job of helping people heal from physical and emotional wounds through guiding their creative expression may sound fun, it requires a graduate-level college education, hundreds of hours of supervised clinical experience and professional credentials. While the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB) awards four professional designations in the field, certain states also require that art therapists attain a license to practice.

Registered Art Therapist and Provisional Registered Art Therapist

Becoming registered as a Provisional Registered Art Therapist (ATR-Provisional) is a stepping stone to your art therapist career, not a final destination. As the word “provisional” in the credential’s title suggests, this designation does not denote a fully qualified art therapist. Instead, it illustrates that the aspiring therapist has completed the necessary educational requirements for registration or board certification and is working in the field but is still working with supervision.

When it comes to preparing for a career in art therapy, both the education needed to get started and the post-degree experience needed to become fully qualified are extensive. Although the American Art Therapy Association has historically only required approved programs to consist of at least 48 credit hours of study, many states require a minimum of 60 credit hours. Considering that U.S. News & World Report puts the average number of credits needed for a master’s degree between 32 and 36, these programs are surprisingly work-intensive.

Once you finish your education, getting certified isn’t a simple matter of filing some forms or even taking a challenging professional exam. Before you can seek full registration, you must meet extensive post-graduate experience requirements – anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 of direct client contact, with a minimum of 100 to 200 hours of supervision. Since the requirements beyond education are so demanding, and since these non-credentialed graduates are working in clinical practice, it made sense for the ATCB to create this provisional designation that celebrates what newcomers to the field have already accomplished and allows for more transparency for the public.

What Licenses and Certifications Do I Need to Be an Art Therapist?

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Once you complete your post-graduate experience requirements, you become eligible to apply for certification as a Registered Art Therapist (ATR). At this level of professional credential, you no longer need to work under supervision. The full-fledged ATR credential makes you qualified to practice independently – although state licensing requirements may also have a place in this determination – but is only the first tier of a multi-level credential system.

Although graduates can apply for the ATR-Provisional credential at any time after beginning their supervised clinical experience, this credential is optional. Not having it won’t prevent you from progressing once you have met full registration requirements. 

Board Certified Art Therapist

If you aspire to go beyond the basic ATR designation, board certification is the next step up in the field. Becoming a Board Certified Art Therapist (ATR-BC) requires more than a transcript showing your educational achievements and verification of supervised clinical hours served. For this highest-level credential in the field, you need to prove your knowledge and skills by taking a professional examination.

The Art Therapy Credentials Board Examination (ATCBE) is used nationwide to test candidates’ suitability for board certification and, in some states, is also required as part of a licensing process. The test is typically offered four months out of the year and is administered via computer. Generally, the exam comprises 170 graded questions and a total of 200 questions overall. Test-takers usually have four hours to finish the exam. ATCBE exam questions cover topics that include professional practice and ethics, theoretical approaches to art therapy, intake and evaluation, different assessment and evaluation instruments, diagnoses and populations, clinical skills and application and the art therapy environment.

Although some professional examinations are so difficult that pass rates are low, the pass rates for the ATCBE exam in recent years has ranged from a low of 81 percent to a high of 91 percent.

Art Therapy Certified Supervisor

That supervised experience you must have to become certified as an ATR or an ATR-BC is only possible to attain if established art therapists commit to supervising the next generation of art therapists. Before one can qualify to supervise art therapists in training, he or she should cultivate considerable skills in the area of clinical supervision. For art therapists who are willing to pursue special studies and experience opportunities to enhance their supervisory abilities, the ATCB awards the Art Therapy Certified Supervisor (ATCS) credential. Candidates can choose to meet ATCS requirements through an Education-Based track or an Experience-Based track.

Although holding the ATCS designation isn’t a requirement to supervise a new art therapist’s clinical experience, meeting these standards can help individual supervisors become more effective, in turn elevating the entire field of clinical practice.

Art Therapy State Licenses

Beyond the credentials offered by the ATCB, art therapists also have to navigate the complex area of state licensure. Nine states currently require art therapists to hold a licensed distinct to the field, according to the American Art Therapy Association. Delaware, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey and New Mexico award the Licensed Professional Art Therapist credential. In Connecticut, the designation is Clinical Licensed Art Therapist, while in Maryland, it’s Licensed Clinical Professional Art Therapist. Oregon uses both Licensed Certified Art Therapist and Licensed Art Therapist credentials. In other states, art therapy falls under the umbrella of a different area of professional practice that requires licensure, including the Professional Counselor License in Pennsylvania and the Creative Arts Therapist License in New York.

In some states, like Oregon, an art therapist’s level of ATCB credential influences the licensure process, while in other states, ATCB certifications are distinct from state standards and requirements.

Additional Resources

What Is Board Certification in Art Therapy? How Important Is It?

What Degree Should I Get to Become an Art Therapist?

Do I Need a Master’s Degree to Become an Art Therapist?