Art therapist


Art therapists help patients overcome psychological and emotional difficulties through an artistic process which reflects emotions and feelings, focusing on patients who suffer a variety of problems such as mental, psychological, and behavioural disorders in order to facilitate self-understanding and awareness.

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to art therapist:


Minimum qualifications

Bachelor’s degree is generally required to work as art therapist. However, this requirement may differ in some countries.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Art therapist is a Skill level 4 occupation.

Art therapist career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to art therapist.

recreational therapist
animal assisted therapist
specialist biomedical scientist
specialist pharmacist

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of art therapist. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of art therapist with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of art therapist.

Health care legislation: The patients` rights and responsibilities of health practitioners and the possible repercussions and prosecutions in relation to medical treatment negligence or malpractice.
Fine arts: The theory and techniques required to compose, produce and perform works of visual arts as drawing, painting, sculpture and other art forms.
Cognitive psychology: The human mental processes such as attention, memory, language use, perception, problem solving, creativity and thinking.
Theory of art therapy: The art therapy history and theory, events, and practitioners, and the development of art therapy as a distinct therapeutic practice, the overview of psychotherapy theories relevant to art therapy, theories of creativity, and theoretical foundations of art therapy.
Sociology: The group behaviour and dynamics, societal trends and influences, human migrations, ethnicity, cultures and their history and origins.
Human psychological development: The human psychological development across the lifespan, theories of personality development, cultural and environmental influences, human behavior, including developmental crises, disability, exceptional behavior, and addictive behavior.
Behavioural therapy: The characteristics and foundations of behavioural therapy, which focuses on changing patients` unwanted or negative behaviour. It involves studying the present behaviour and the means by which this can be un-learned.
Psychopathology: The criteria of psychiatric diagnoses, the use of the disease classification system, and the theories of psychopathology. The indicators of functional and organic disorders and the types of psychopharmacological medications.
Techniques of practice in art therapy: The direct experience of the therapeutic utility and psychological influence of art processes and materials, and the therapeutic effect of art making, leading to the establishment of therapeutic goals and intervention strategies.
Psychological theories: The historical development of counselling and psychological theories, as well as the perspectives, applications, and interviewing and counselling strategies.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of art therapist.

Respond to changing situations in health care: Cope with pressure and respond appropriately and in time to unexpected and rapidly changing situations in healthcare.
Educate on the prevention of illness: Offer evidence-based advice on how to avoid ill health, educate and advise individuals and their carers on how to prevent ill health and/or be able to advise how to improve their environment and health conditions. Provide advice on the identification of risks leading to ill health and help to increase the patients’ resilience by targeting prevention and early intervention strategies.
Inform policy makers on health-related challenges: Provide useful information related to health care professions to ensure policy decisions are made in the benefit of communities.
Contribute to continuity of health care: Contribute to the delivery of coordinated and continuous healthcare.
Use e-health and mobile health technologies: Use mobile health technologies and e-health (online applications and services) in order to enhance the provided healthcare.
Enable patients to explore artworks: Enable patients to discover and explore works of art and the artistic production process.
Prepare treatment plan for art therapy: Make a treatment plan outlining possible art therapy strategies such as drawing, painting, sculpture, and collage with patients ranging from young children to the elderly, looking for forms of art therapy that might be helpful in meeting the patient`s needs.
Use art in a therapeutic setting: Work creatively with various groups of patients in a therapeutic setting.
Develop educational materials on art therapy: Develop educational materials to educate patients, families, staff, and public about art therapy.
Formulate a case conceptualisation model for therapy: Compose an individualised treatment plan in collaboration with the individual, striving to match his or her needs, situation, and treatment goals to maximise the probability of therapeutic gain; considering any possible personal, social, and systemic barriers that might undermine treatment.
Manage healthcare users’ data: Keep accurate client records which also satisfy legal and professional standards and ethical obligations in order to facilitate client management, ensuring that all clients’ data (including verbal, written and electronic) are treated confidentially.
Deal with emergency care situations: Assess the signs and be well-prepared for a situation that poses an immediate threat to a person’s health, security, property or environment.

Maintain healthcare user data confidentiality: Comply with and maintain the confidentiality of healthcare users` illness and treatment information.
Provide health education: Provide evidence based strategies to promote healthy living, disease prevention and management.
Communicate effectively in healthcare: Communicate effectively with patients, families and other caregivers, health care professionals, and community partners.
Follow clinical guidelines: Follow agreed protocols and guidelines in support of healthcare practice which are provided by healthcare institutions, professional associations, or authorities and also scientific organisations.
Encourage healthcare user’s self-monitoring: Encourage the healthcare user to engage in self-monitoring by conducting situational and developmental analyses on him- or herself. Assist the healthcare user to develop a degree of self-critique and self-analysis in regards to his behaviour, actions, relationships and self-awareness.
Advise on healthcare users’ informed consent: Ensure patients/clients are fully informed about the risks and benefits of proposed treatments so they can give informed consent, engaging patients/clients in the process of their care and treatment.
Apply art therapy interventions: Treat children, adolescents, adults, couples and families in inpatient, outpatient, partial treatment programs, and aftercare with art therapy interventions, to explore verbal, behavioral, and artistic communication, treatment planning, treatment approaches and relationship dynamics.
Comply with quality standards related to healthcare practice: Apply quality standards related to risk management, safety procedures, patients feedback, screening and medical devices in daily practice, as they are recognized by the national professional associations and authorities.
Comply with legislation related to health care: Comply with the regional and national legislation that is relevant to one`s work and apply it in practice.
Listen actively: Give attention to what other people say, patiently understand points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times; able to listen carefully the needs of customers, clients, passengers, service users or others, and provide solutions accordingly.
Apply health sciences: Apply a broad range of bio-medical, psycho-social, organisational, educational, and societal aspects of health, disease, and healthcare to improve healthcare services and to improve quality of life.
Adhere to organisational guidelines: Adhere to organisational or department specific standards and guidelines. Understand the motives of the organisation and the common agreements and act accordingly.
Assess the patient’s therapeutic needs: Observe and assess the patient`s behaviour, attitudes and emotions in order to understand if and how their therapeutic needs can be met with a specific kind of therapy, collecting and analysing information on how the client makes, responds to, and relates to artistic stimulae. Relate this information to other aspects of the patient`s life.
Work in a multicultural environment in health care: Interact, relate and communicate with individuals from a variety of different cultures, when working in a healthcare environment.
Challenge patient behaviour by means of art: Constructively challenge the behaviour, attitude and mind-set of patients through art therapy sessions.
Promote inclusion: Promote inclusion in health care and social services and respect diversity of beliefs, culture, values and preferences, keeping in mind the importance of equality and diversity issues.
Assess art therapy sessions: Evaluate the effectiveness of art therapy sessions to aid the planning of subsequent sessions.
Interact with healthcare users: Communicate with clients and their carer’s, with the patient’s permission, to keep them informed about the clients’ and patients’ progress and safeguarding confidentiality.
Organise relapse prevention: Help the patient or client identify and anticipate high risk situations or external and internal triggers. Support them in developing better coping strategies and back-up plans in case of future difficulties.
Ensure safety of healthcare users: Make sure that healthcare users are being treated professionally, effectively and safe from harm, adapting techniques and procedures according to the person’s needs, abilities or the prevailing conditions.
Apply organisational techniques: Employ a set of organisational techniques and procedures which facilitate the achievement of the goals set. Use these resources efficiently and sustainably, and show flexibility when required.
Develop a collaborative therapeutic relationship: Develop a mutually collaborative therapeutic relationship during treatment, fostering and gaining healthcare users’ trust and cooperation.
Apply context specific clinical competences: Apply professional and evidence based assessment, goal setting, delivery of intervention and evaluation of clients, taking into account the developmental and contextual history of the clients, within one`s own scope of practice.
Motivate patiens: Encourage the patient’s motivation to change and promote the belief that therapy can help, using techniques and treatment engagement procedures for this purpose.
Refer healthcare users: Make referrals to other professionals, based on the healthcare user’s requirements and needs, especially when recognising that additional healthcare diagnostics or interventions are required.
Work in multidisciplinary health teams: Participate in the delivery of multidisciplinary health care, and understand the rules and competences of other healthcare related professions.
Take referred patients: Take referred patients, including self-referred ones and referrals from other professionals such as teachers, psychologists, therapists and psychiatrists.
Schedule artistic activities: Plan, design and facilitate a schedule of artistic activities for individuals and groups.
Accept own accountability: Accept accountability for one`s own professional activities and recognise the limits of one`s own scope of practice and competencies.
Treat medical conditions with art therapy: Elicit clients’ inherent capacity for art making to enhance their physical, mental and emotional well-being, treating people with developmental, medical, educational and social or psychological impairment.

Optional knowledge and skills

Optional knowledge

This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of art therapist. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

Sexology: The characteristics and evolution of human sexual activity, sexual orientation and the sexual relationship for various group types such as teenagers, elderly or disabled people.
Neurophysiology: The medical specialty which is concerned with the study of the nervous system functionalities.
Cognitive behavioural therapy: The solution-focused approach to treating mental disorders oriented towards solving problems by teaching new information-processing skills and coping mechanisms.
Victimology: The relationships between victims and perpetrators, the frequency of victimization and the psychological effects it has on the victim.
Philosophy: The different philosophical systems, their basic principles, values, ethics, ways of thinking, customs, practices and their impact on human culture.
Pedagogy: The discipline that concerns the theory and practice of education including the various instructional methods for educating individuals or groups.
Psychosociology: The implications related to how an individual is behaving, depending on the group to which the individual belongs to and how this influences him/her.
Relaxation techniques: The various methods and techniques used to alleviate stress and bring peace and relaxation to the body and mind. This includes activities such as yoga, qigong or t`ai chi.
Psychoanalysis: The types of psychoanalytic theories and techniques that relate to the unconscious mental processes

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of art therapist. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

Ensure proper appointment administration: Set up a proper procedure to manage appointments, including policies related to cancellation and nonappearance.
Practice gestalt therapy: Use gestalt therapy techniques such as the empty chair technique and the exaggeration exercise in individual or group settings in the shape of creative exercises and experiments, aiming to make the individual understand different aspects of a conflict, experience, or mental health issue.
Handle patient trauma: Assess the competences, needs, and limitations of people affected by trauma, referring the patients to specialised trauma services where appropriate.
Employ foreign languages for health-related research: Use foreign languages for conducting and collaborating in health-related research.
Employ foreign languages in care: Communicate in foreign languages with healthcare users, their carers, or services providers. Use foreign languages to faciliate patient care according to the needs of the patient.
Apply psychoanalysis: Conduct psychoanalysis on patients, focusing on unconscious forces that can have a negative effect on their psychological well-being.

ISCO group and title

2269 – Health professionals not elsewhere classified





  1. Art therapist – ESCO
Last updated on August 8, 2022

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