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What is Art Therapy?

Teresa Woodruff, LPC, ATR-BC, CPCS, is leading an Art Therapy 101 Workshop on Thursday, March 3, 2016 from 9:00am to 12:00pm. For more information about art therapy or to attend our art therapy workshop, email Teresa at:

Art It Out Therapy Center’s founder and director, Teresa Woodruff, is the president of the Georgia Art Therapy Association. Teresa defines art therapy, how art therapy can be beneficial and the requirements for becoming an art therapist.

"What is art therapy?"

Art therapy is a form of counseling that uses a combination of art and psychotherapy. Unlike talk therapy, which relies solely on the use of words, art therapy can be especially helpful for those who have difficulty putting their feelings into words and makes difficult issues safer and easier to discuss. Within an art therapy session, a trained art therapist often encourages the client to engage in a specific art directive or activity, allowing the client to: express feelings, gain perspective, increase coping skills, improve communication skills, improve “flow” or creativity, and discuss difficult feelings. Specific art directives are intentional and planned by the art therapist to achieve the client’s goal(s). Research demonstrates that art therapy is beneficial for: reducing depression and anxiety, improving social skills, managing pain, improving inter-family relationships, and decreasing negative behaviors.

According to the American Art Therapy Association (, “Art therapists use art media, and often the verbal processing of produced imagery, to help people resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight… Art therapy provides an alternative means of communicating for those who cannot find the words to express anxiety, pain or emotions as a result of trauma, combat, physical abuse, loss of brain function, depression, and other debilitating health conditions.”

who can benefit from art therapy? Art therapy is used with children, teens, adults, families, seniors, and groups. It is helpful for discussing strong feelings or feelings that are difficult to put into words. In addition, it can be helpful for children and teens who use art as a natural way to communicate. When feelings or experiences (such as problems with peers, chronic pain, parental divorce, or excessive worries) are difficult to verbalize, art therapy may be a way to allow clients to express feelings, work through difficulties, and gain skills for coping. While art is often the vehicle for communication or the conversation-starter, art therapists do use words with their clients. In art therapy sessions, clients may feel more at ease to express and then discuss topics that are difficult to talk about.

Previous art experience is not necessary and the focus is often on the product, or the act of making art, as opposed to the product, or creation.

"How do you become an art therapist?"

Art Therapists must receive master’s level training in art therapy. Unfortunately, those who receive a master’s in counseling cannot obtain a certification in art therapy. One must attend a graduate school specifically for art therapy. The art therapy master’s program includes rigorous coursework in psychology, group therapy, theories and techniques of art therapy, counseling, ethics and standards of practice, assessment, human development, and research methods. Graduate programs are 45-60 course hours and include supervised graduate internships. For a complete list of accredited graduate programs, visit the American Art Therapy Association:

Before attending a graduate-level program, undergraduate prerequisites often include 15-18 hours of psychology courses and 15-18 hours of art courses. Specific school requirements vary and are available on each graduate school’s website.

Art therapy programs in the southeast include the Georgia College and State University and Florida State University. Additionally, Georgia residents may also receive in-state tuition with the University of Louisville or Florida State University through the Academic Common Market. For details, visit:

"What are art therapy credentials?"

Criteria to become a Registered Art Therapist (ATR): a master’s degree or higher in art therapy from a program accredited by the American Art Therapy Association (AATA); a GPA of 3.0 or higher; a supervised practicum/internship with a minimum of 700 hours; 1,000 hours of post-graduate work providing art therapy to clients; a minimum of 100 hours of supervision (at least 50 of which must be with an ATR or ATR-BC; the other hours may be with a master’s level trained mental health professional).

Criteria to become a Board Certified Registered Art Therapist (ATR-BC): must be a Registered Art Therapist (ATR) and pass the Art Therapy Credentials Board Examination (ATCBE), demonstrating comprehensive knowledge of the theories and clinical skills used in art therapy. Exams are typically offered once per year and are offered at the annual American Art Therapy Association conference.

"Can art therapists accept insurance?"

Currently, Georgia does not have a license for art therapists. However, art therapists may be on insurance panels or clients may receive out-of-network insurance reimbursement if the art therapist is also licensed, such as a Licensed Professional Counselor or Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, or if the art therapist is supervised by another licensed professional.

is it necessary to be an art therapist to use art with a client? No, many therapists use art in therapy sessions, and art is a great tool for all therapists. However, art therapists are extensively trained in art therapy interventions, assessments, and implementation and have experience with a variety of art materials. They have knowledge of specific characteristics of materials and know what materials to use with specific clients.

"Is a coloring book “art therapy”?

There are many wonderful coloring books that allow individuals to reduce stress and relax while coloring in someone else’s design. While these are great stress-relievers and can supplement art therapy, they do not replace a trained art therapist.

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