Art therapy credentials

Art therapy credentialing is a complex topic that could (and will — stay tuned!) span several blog posts.

In short, after receiving your master’s degree in art therapy from an accredited program, you can call yourself an art therapist. After collecting 1,000 supervised hours of client contact performing art therapy (and 100+ hours of formal supervision by seasoned therapists), you are eligible to apply to become an ATR (Registered Art Therapist). Gaining more experience and passing a national exam opens the door to ATR-BC Board Certification.

Why supervision matters

“Supervision” is the mentorship model that all therapeutic professions use to train and shape their next generations. The idea is that you can only learn so much about doing therapy from reading books and sitting in classes. Real-world, face-to-face experience is needed to become a successful therapist. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand why this is both true and very risky. So, we pair young therapists with seasoned therapists and formalize this mentorship. Supervision meetings generally occur weekly (at minimum) and have clear training goals.

Up to this point, new art therapists seeking supervision toward their own credentialing could be mentored and signed off by ATR’s. This is a fine set-up for a fledgling profession with not enough supervisor options, but a poor standard to set for a profession that wants to take its quality to the next level. In the best case, only those art therapists with the highest level of training and certification (for now, the ATR-BC) would be eligible to become supervisors.

Unfortunately, in many places in the United States, this would mean that young art therapists would not always be able to find the supervision they need to learn and grow toward their own credentials.

Enter the ATCS (Art Therapy Certified Supervisor)

And so, several  years ago, the Art Therapy Credentials Board announced a new recognition for art therapists — the ATCS or Art Therapy Certified Supervisor. At some point, the ATCS will be required for all art therapists who supervise graduate students and post-graduates. I welcome this change in our credentialing process. I believe it signifies a growth spurt for our powerful (but young) profession.

I have experienced both excellent supervision and mediocre supervision. I know how important it is for fresh art therapists to safely apply all that they have learned from books and school. They need support. They need to rely on their professional “elders” to help them through difficult legal, ethical, and clinical issues that inevitably arise when you are working with lovely, messy, unpredictable human nature.

So, although it’s not required yet, I decided to throw my full support behind the ATCB’s efforts to standardize the quality art therapy care.

I received my ATCS this month!

I’m proud to announce that, based on my many years of supervising art therapists and other mental health providers, I was awarded the ATCS this month! This is just one way I can show my dedication to the field of art therapy and the importance of education and mentorship for those who wish to call themselves art therapists.

It’s worth it

Some complain that pursuing graduate education (and, for some, additional graduate education) just for the sake of becoming an art therapist is prohibitive and unfair. They want to be able to read a few books, maybe attend a weekend training or two, and learn everything they need to know to legally and ethically call themselves art therapists.

After more than a decade of doing art therapy work, I humbly disagree. I wish that every therapist could have the mentorship and support that I experienced during my training. I h ave experienced the complexities and treatment-resistance that many of our clients struggle with, and the nuances of art, art media, direction and style that are needed to help clients reach their full potential.

I have loved my years of supervision experience with young therapists and I look forward to many more. For this reason, and to hold myself to the same standard of training and education as other ATCB’s around the country, I am proud to add these new letters to my professional resume.

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