Art Therapy Doctorate Graduate Programs

Art therapy is a highly creative field that combines the use of psychology and the arts including, dance, visual arts, music and poetry to help all types of individuals manage various mental and physical challenges. Art therapy brings together the healing powers of art with the application of principles in psychotherapy to help improve client’s lives. Art therapists provide their services to a plethora of different clients including people with injuries, illnesses, and disabilities.

art therapy PhD programs

Introduction to Art Therapy Ph.D. Programs

In order to become a practicing art therapist, potential students usually must earn either a master’s degree or a Ph.D. in the study of art therapy.  Students can also earn a master’s degree in counseling with a concentration in art therapy.  Graduate programs in art therapy incorporate visual arts and various other artistic practices with psychotherapy.  Students complete course work in psychology, core art therapy courses, and other similar topics.  Most programs also include a training component as part of the degree requirement. 

Earning a PhD in Art Therapy

Students interested in pursuing a career in art therapy can do so through several educational paths.  Prospective students can earn either master’s degree or a Ph.D. in the study of art therapy.  Master’s degree programs in art therapy usually take about two years to complete if attending full time but can also take up to four years to complete if a student attends part time or takes a leave of absence. 

Art therapy master’s degree curriculums aim to develop students academically, mentally and emotionally to prepare them for all facets of working as an art therapy professional.  Students complete intense course work to gain an in-depth understanding in the subjects of psychotherapy, psychopathology, research art

therapy, ethical issues, psychological development, and many other subjects.  Master’s degree students immerse themselves in both the theoretical and practical theories and applications of art therapy in today’s world.  Master’s degree candidates are also often required to submit a graduate thesis in an art therapy topic; some schools require several long research papers.  Most programs also include a fieldwork or training component as part of the degree requirement. 

Many students interested in art therapy also choose to earn their Ph.D. in the subject.  Ph.D. programs in art therapy usually take about three years to complete.  Students attend artistic seminar classes and research seminar classes as well.  Students are required to prepare a dissertation on a subject of their choice related to art therapy.  Parts of the program requirements also include clinical teaching and practice, as well as multiple research classes and studio based artistic seminars.  Earning a Ph.D. could help professionals in the field enhance their career.  Earning a Ph.D. in art therapy may create new opportunities for professionals to gain access to grants and other research funding.  Candidates who earn their Ph.D. in art therapy may also become qualified to teach at a college level.

Popular Research and PhD Thesis Topics for Art Therapy Ph.D. Students

There are a varied multitude of popular research and Ph.D. thesis topics in art therapy.  Students are often encouraged to be creative and can select almost any topic that they want.  Students have written about all sorts of different issues such as the effect of yoga on the soul and mind and bringing self-awareness through art therapy, the use of diagnostic drawing on the adolescent population, the effectiveness of clay as opposed to drawing in expressing emotions within the elderly, and many other vastly varied topics. 

Ph.D. students in art therapy have also written about the image experience through art as a vehicle to personal meaning, the effect of playful humor on art therapy, the incorporation of nature into art therapy, drama therapy and its effect on female adolescents and many other various topics relating to art therapy and its practical uses in helping clients.  Art therapy Ph.D. students also execute and complete research projects in various areas of the study of art and its applications. 

Many academics vigilantly and continuously conduct research studies about the effect of art therapy on mental health.  Researchers and academics in the field continuously develop and execute research studies and present research papers and projects.  Researchers and academics focus on many different topics relating to the uses of art therapy in certain situations including adoption and foster care, eating disorders, autism, brain injury, and many other instances where art therapy can be helpful.  Some researchers also focus on studying and investigating the role of art therapy in museums and other various institutions. 

The American Art Therapy Association gives out awards for excellence in research to both eligible students and researchers who are members of the association and complete projects based in applied art therapy research.  Students may qualify for and potentially win the Gladys Agell Award for Excellence in Research; meanwhile professionals may qualify for and potentially obtain the American Art Therapy Association Research Award.  Both awards are accompanied by cash prizes1.

National Resources for Students

The American Art Therapy Association or “AATA” is a professional organization for individuals who choose to pursue a career in art therapy.  The AATA is committed to the principle that art has healing qualities and has an overall positive effect on life.  The mission of the AATA is to provide support to its student and professional members as well as the general public and promote the healing powers of art therapy2.  The International Expressive Arts Therapy Association is an organization that aims to inspire and educate therapists, artists, educators and consultants in the field of art therapy3.  Other organizations like Art Therapy Without Borders and state based associations related to art therapy are also available to support professionals and students in the field4.

There are many popular and useful academic journals available to individuals working in the art therapy fled.  The AATA publishes the Journal of American Art Therapy Association5, which is one of the leading publications in the field of art therapy.  The Arts in Psychotherapy Journal publishes five issues a year and is filled with the work of professionals in the field as well as peer-reviewed articles6.  The Journal of Clinical Art Therapy is an online publication that contains peer-reviewed articles, editorials, and other helpful information related to topics in art therapy in order to provide support to professionals in the field7.   

Myths and Realities about Art

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about the role of art therapists and the field of art therapy in general.  One erroneous perception is that clients must create some type of art at every art therapy session.  This is not true at all; some sessions consist primarily or even solely of talking dedicated to discussing and finding ways to resolve the client’s issues.  There is no requirement for clients to produce artworks at every session.  The goal of art therapy is not to produce stellar artworks; it is to employ the benefits of art in a therapy setting. 

Another myth about art therapy is that it’s just for artists.  This is completely untrue; art therapy can benefit all types of clients regardless of their artistic abilities or talent.  Art therapy aims to create a comfortable environment for all clients to be able to utilize art in a healing and helpful way.  The aim of art therapy is not to teach art to clients, but to use art in a therapeutic manner.  Clients can enjoy many benefits from art therapy regardless of the artistic ability that they display during sessions. 

Another mistaken idea about art therapy is that it’s for children only and not for adults.  This myth is completely false; in fact art therapy can serve to benefit people of all ages.  Some art therapy practices are geared solely towards the elderly, while other art therapists serve clients of all ages.  Art therapy can help clients of all ages express emotions, recover from emotional hurts, and assist in creating positive changes in their lives along with numerous other benefits.    

Another prevalent and very incorrect myth is that art therapists are just artists with no real credentials or qualifications.  This perception is completely false.  In fact, most art therapists are required to earn either master’s degree or a Ph.D. in the study of art therapy.  Registered art therapists must earn at least a master’s degree in art therapy and complete a set amount of on the job training hours.  Art therapists certified by the Art Therapy Credentialing Board must complete supervised clinical training and pass an examination8.

A common myth about art therapy is that only people with who are experiencing a major crisis can benefit from art therapy.  In fact art therapy can be beneficial to clients going through all sorts of mental health issues or afflictions involving physical conditions.  Clients can utilize art therapy to strive for personal awareness and build confidence among many other uses.  Although people going through severe mental distress can stand to benefit greatly from art therapy, other individuals experiencing less traumatic mental health and other issues can also stand to greatly benefit from art therapy. 

Art therapy brings together the benefits of art and the clinical and theoretical applications of psychotherapy.  The healing properties of art therapy can be beneficial for clients of all ages and with varying issues.  Art therapists usually either have earned a master’s degree or a PhD. Degree in art therapy.  There are many graduate programs in art therapy for interested students to choose from.  Master’s programs in art therapy usually take two years to complete while a Ph.D. degree in art therapy usually takes about three years.  Both programs require candidates to either write a research thesis or prepare a research dissertation on a topic relating to art therapy.  Students have chosen to focus their research on a large variety of areas including the effect of art therapy in drama on female adolescent or the effect of nature in art therapy.

There are many resources available to students and professionals in art therapy.  There are many national organizations dedicated to art therapy like the American Art Therapy Association; there are also state art therapy associations available to those in the art therapy field.  There are also numerous publications available to art therapy students and professionals including the Arts in Psychotherapy Journal and many others.  There are many myths and incorrect assumptions about art therapy but with a little bit of research one can discover that art therapy is a field that strives to help all kinds of people by introducing them to the benefits of art therapy. 









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