Using creative arts to facilitate healing is not a new practice.
In ancient Greece and Rome, participation in theater acts was “prescribed” for individuals with depression or anxiety.
Likewise, tribal communities around the globe have been using dance, music, and painting in healing for millennia (Degges-White, 2011).
If you’re interested in taking the next step in your career to become a creative arts therapist, look no further. In this article, we’ll give you a basic introduction to the field of creative arts therapies, recommend some training options, and point you toward our favorite resources you can use with your art therapy clients today.
Before you continue reading, we thought you might like to download our three Grief Exercises [PDF] for free. These science-based tools will help you move yourself or others through grief in a compassionate way.
This Article Contains:
- What Are Creative Arts Therapies?
- A Brief History of Creative Arts Therapies
- How to Become a Creative Arts Therapist
- Training Options: 9 Courses and Degrees
- 5 Best Online Programs to Consider
- How to Use Creative Arts in Counseling
- Top 4 Activities and Ideas for Your Sessions
- Helpful Resources From PositivePsychology.com
- A Take-Home Message
What Are Creative Arts Therapies?
Creative arts therapies (CATs) involve
“the implementation of an arts intervention by a trained, credentialed creative arts therapist; the presence of a systematic psychotherapeutic process; and the use of individualized treatment interventions.”
Bradt & Goodill, 2013, p. 970
Like other therapies, CATs address patients’ specific therapeutic issues and include the phases of patient assessment, treatment, and evaluation. Further, CAT interventions can consist of a broad range of artistic practices, including (Bradt & Goodill, 2013):
- Expressive writing
CAT differs from more general art-related healthcare practices in that CAT practitioners should be licensed and accredited.
Another difference is that more general art-related healthcare practices encompass a broad continuum of care, and the patient may play a more or less active role in the performance or creation of the art.
For instance, a performance put on by a group of artists for a patient would fall under the broader umbrella of general art-related healthcare but not be considered CAT, which centers around patient involvement as part of a targeted psychotherapeutic intervention.
A Brief History of Creative Arts Therapies
According to the American Psychological Association (Winerman, 2005), modern CATs first emerged in the United States during the 1940s and 50s. Before then, the different CAT interventions were largely considered separate therapies.
When did it begin?
Founded in 1855, St. Elizabeths Hospital’s Department of Behavioral Health in Washington, D.C., had pioneering campuses in the therapeutic fields of art, music, dance, bibliotherapy, and psychodrama, and is widely considered to be the birthplace of CAT.
Marian Chace, a dancer and therapist born in Rhode Island, believed that dance was a powerful medium through which humans could meet their essential need for communication and understanding (Winerman, 2005). She is recognized as one of the first to use dance to meet the needs of patients with severe mental health challenges, practicing at St. Elizabeths Hospital in the 1940s after observing the positive effects that movement could have on symptoms of trauma (Sandel, Chaiklin, & Lohn, 1993).
A key figure in the founding of the American Dance Therapy Association, Chace ultimately became the Association’s first president and has left a long legacy of dignity and compassion in her work.
Arleen Hynes, a librarian and bibliotherapist at St. Elizabeths, discovered that inviting her patients to relate to poems resulted in evocative and creative responses that expressed their inner lives (Winerman, 2005; Rossiter, 2004). She began focusing on literature that stimulated the imagination rather than on narratives and trained herself to conduct therapy with poetry (Lamb & Friday, 2006).
Over 10 years at St. Elizabeths, Hynes went from running small evening classes to helping establish the National Association for Poetry Therapy. She then went on to receive several awards and publish a widely acclaimed handbook on biblio/poetry therapy (Hynes & Hynes-Berry, 2011).
How to Become a Creative Arts Therapist
The requirements for becoming a CAT will differ between countries and states.
The minimum qualifications for conducting any form of therapy involve different supervised internship hours and accreditation requirements.
To learn more, be sure to look at our dedicated article How to Become a Therapist: Requirements, Degrees, & Experience or consider purchasing our in-depth guide, On Becoming a Therapist.
The standard pathway for becoming a CAT typically proceeds as follows (New York Health Careers, n.d.):
- Complete a bachelor’s degree that includes coursework in both creative arts and psychopathology.
- Complete a master’s degree in CAT from a registered/accredited program.
- Complete a minimum number of supervised internship hours (e.g., in New York, this is 1,500 hours).
- Undergo accreditation to practice therapy in your country or state.
- Pass a CAT test/exam, such as the Art Therapy Credentials Board, the Certification Board for Music Therapists, or the New York State Case Narrative Exam.
Training Options: 9 Courses and Degrees
Interested in being trained as a creative arts therapist? Here are some of the degree options around the world.
The following bachelor’s programs are recommended entry points for learning about CAT. They do not fully prepare students for licensure or certification to practice CAT, as this requires a minimum of a master’s degree.
The University of Tampa – Bachelor of Arts in Art Therapy, USA
This BA program gives students a well-rounded introduction to the therapeutic arts, teaching its applications for working with a range of intrapsychic phenomena.
Particular applications include the use of arts for personal growth, rehabilitation, and self-awareness.
The program includes topics on the following art mediums:
You can learn more on the program’s website.
University of South Wales – Bachelor of Arts (Hons) Creative and Therapeutic Arts, Australia
This bachelor’s program allows students to develop their future practice as a CAT in community and educational settings.
Across three years, students will learn innovative creative and therapeutic arts methods through art practice placements and theory-related skill building from leading experts.
Placement opportunities include those in community settings, such as women’s centers and children’s play therapy settings.
Find out more on the program’s website.
Ikon Institute of Australia – Bachelor of Arts Therapy, Australia
This undergraduate program gives students a broad knowledge of psychotherapy and therapeutic skills while emphasizing the processes of art therapy.
In particular, students will practice the artistic modes of:
- Visual arts
For electives, students can choose topics including eco-psychotherapy, art and social action, indigenous approaches to health and wellbeing, and dreams and symbols.
Find out more on the program’s website.
The following is a sample of accredited master’s programs designed to prepare students for licensure and certification as a CAT.
Pratt Institute – Creative Arts Therapy Graduate Degrees, USA
New York’s Pratt Institute is a global leader in higher education, offering two accredited graduate degrees in CATs.
The Master of Professional Studies in Art Therapy and Creativity Development is an accredited 60-credit program synthesizing creative, aesthetic decision-making and psychotherapeutic practice and theory through experiential learning.
The Master of Science in Dance/Movement Therapy is structured similarly but emphasizes dance/movement as the means for therapeutic change based on the healing processes proposed by psychodynamic theory.
You can learn more about these programs on the institute’s website.
Leeds Beckett University – Master of Art Psychotherapy Practice, UK
This program, run in partnership with Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust, is designed to meet the national training criteria to practice and register as an art therapist or art psychotherapist in the United Kingdom.
Training focuses on developing students’ ability to deliver safe and effective care using visual art and image making. It also gives students access to work placements in a broad range of settings, including general hospitals, disability services, and forensics.
University of Melbourne – Master of Creative Arts Therapy, Australia
This two-year degree program provides an overview of theories related to health treatment involving the arts, which can be applied in a range of contexts.
Students will learn about contemporary practices in the field of art therapy and explore the similarities, differences, and differing effects of various art forms.
Several Australian licensure bodies accredit the program for CAT and connect students with a broad range of placement opportunities.
You can learn more on the University of Melbourne’s website.
Note that the following doctoral programs are designed to help students pursue a nonclinical career or expand on other programs’ clinical licenses. They do not prepare graduates for clinical licensure or certification.
Saybrook University – PhD in Psychology: Creativity Studies Specialization, USA
In this doctoral program, students will discover the value of nurturing creativity to help achieve health and organizational outcomes.
In particular, students will learn to analyze and conduct psychological research while strengthening their skills to work in a range of public, private, and nonprofit sectors, such as the arts, health, consulting, and social transformation.
To learn more, visit the program’s website.
Florida State University – PhD or EdD in Art Education: Concentration in Art Therapy, USA
The art education PhD or EdD at Florida State teaches students the skills to make substantial academic contributions to the field of art therapy, with many of this program’s students making major contributions to the literature in faculties and colleges around the United States.
In particular, students of this program will gain the skills to teach, lead research teams, publish and present findings, engage in advanced clinical practice, and develop art therapy education programs.
University of Haifa – School of Creative Arts Therapies Doctoral Programs, Israel
Israel’s School of Creative Arts Therapies at the University of Haifa offers creative arts therapy PhD programs with the following specializations:
These programs are designed to train students in the skills to forward research in CAT, focusing on theory development, evidence-based practice, and basic and applied research.
For even more programs and information, be sure to take a look at the American Art Therapy Association’s website.
5 Best Online Programs to Consider
If you’re looking to complete a university-level qualification in CAT, know that many programs have online or blended modes of instruction. To get the latest information on the availability of these online options, we recommend reaching out to advisors at your chosen college or university.
Edinboro University – Master of Arts in Counseling, USA
Edinboro University in Pennsylvania is one of the few universities worldwide offering a 100%-online master’s program in art counseling.
The program is accredited and provides students with a solid theoretical and practical foundation upon which to build your own art counseling practice.
Students are invited to select a practicum opportunity and internship in a specialty area of their choice in their local community. This course can also be taken as an abbreviated post-master’s certificate by those who already have a master’s in a related field and are looking to expand an existing skill set.
You can learn more about this program and its offerings on Edinboro University’s website.
Certificates and diplomas
If you’re looking to dip a toe in the field of creative arts therapy or expand an existing skill set, consider the following online training options:
- College for Educational and Clinical Art Therapy (CECAT)
Servicing over 30 countries via its online offerings, CECAT offers a range of certificates, diplomas, and introductory courses in English, German, Chinese, Spanish, Hindi, and Arabic.
- Healing With the Arts (available on Coursera)
The activities in this four-week course offered by the University of Florida draw on dance, visual arts, music, and writing to help students discover their inner artist and promote physical, spiritual, cognitive, and emotional healing within themselves.
- Therapeutic Art Life Coach Certification (available on Udemy)
With a focus on tools about releasing pain, finding meaning, and accessing intuition, this course supports licensed therapists and coaches looking for new tools and ideas to integrate into their practice.
- Positive Psychology Art Coaching (available on Udemy)
This course teaches coaching that supports children’s self-esteem, confidence, and wellbeing using arts and can be adapted for a combination of one-to-one and online group coaching sessions.
How to Use Creative Arts in Counseling
Just as the arts have taken hold in therapy, there are many avenues to apply the arts in counseling. Further, there are often many advantages to doing so.
Here are just a few ways you might use creative arts to support the clients of your counseling practice (Degges-White, 2011):
- The arts are universal and can help a diversity of people across cultures and demographics.
- Visual arts can aid people with limited verbal ability or in situations with language barriers.
- Music therapy has been shown to benefit individuals with age-related diseases/disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
- Movement through dance can help people with physical disabilities stretch and gain mobility.
- Expressive writing is accessible to people of different abilities through tools such as dictation and specialist keyboards.
Overall, creative arts can help counselors move beyond simply talking to discover innovative pathways to achieving a client’s goals.
For more useful resources, look at the books Integrating the Expressive Arts Into Counseling Practice by Suzanne Degges-White and Nancy Davis and The Creative Arts in Counseling by Samuel Gladding.
Top 4 Activities and Ideas for Your Sessions
For useful ideas for your next creative arts therapy session, consider the following free worksheets:
- 3-Month Vision Board
This worksheet encourages your clients to set three-month goals by drawing pictures of their ideal future in eight life domains.
- Honesty: Why, How, and What
As a learning exercise rather than a specific therapeutic intervention, this worksheet begins with a series of questions and reflections about honest versus dishonest behavior and concludes with an activity inviting children to illustrate their understanding of honesty by creating a poster.
- Drawing Your Fears
This exercise invites children to identify a scenario that is causing them anxiety and draw different ways the scenario might unfold to result in different outcomes.
- Gratitude Gifts
This activity invites children to reflect on things or people for which they are grateful. They are then asked to draw what they are grateful for in a series of gift boxes.
Helpful Resources From PositivePsychology.com
For even more useful ideas, consider checking out the many resources available through the Positive Psychology Toolkit©. This toolkit contains over 400 carefully developed tools to support your therapy or counseling practice, with many templates centering on the creative arts.
Here, we illustrate one activity from this resource as an example of the way color and creativity can be used to strengthen understanding of links between the body and one’s emotions.
Visualizing the Bodily Experience of an Emotion
This exercise aims to increase emotional awareness by inviting clients to explore and draw their emotions in the body.
Colored pencils, watercolor paints, crayons, or textas; blank silhouettes/outlines in the shape of a body, printed on sheets of paper.
Have you ever noticed that different emotions manifest differently and in different areas in your body? For example, when we are angry, we might feel heat rush to our heads, chest, and fists; when we are sad, we might feel a heaviness in the chest and tired all over. In this exercise, you will explore and draw where you feel your emotions in your body.
- Activity Steps
First, choose an emotion. This could be an emotion you have been struggling with recently or one you are experiencing presently, such as anxiety, anger, or happiness. Next, take two of the pieces of paper with the outline of a body. On one template, use the different colors and materials to represent which parts of the body feel most activated (i.e., sensations feel stronger or faster) when you are experiencing this emotion. On another template, indicate which parts of the body feel most deactivated (i.e., sensations feel weaker or slower) when experiencing this emotion.
- Wrapping Up
Complete the previous steps for any other emotions that you are curious about, pleasant or unpleasant. Doing so will allow you to become more aware of and familiar with your emotions and recognize them in your body when they arise.
For a done-for-you version of this activity, including facilitation instructions and printable templates, be sure to take a look at the Positive Psychology Toolkit©.
Additionally, if you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enhance their wellbeing, check out this signature collection of 17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners. Use them to help others flourish and thrive.
A Take-Home Message
CAT is a well-established yet growing practice, and demand for therapists trained in CAT may well increase.
At the core of creative arts therapy is a focus on the act of creating art rather than the final product. By emphasizing this focus, practitioners can give clients opportunities for self-expression and discovery of unseen parts of themselves, making the shift to a creative medium or mode often worth it.
We hope this article has inspired you to consider a career in creative arts therapy or to begin integrating artistic practices into the care you provide. If you know of any other resources or avenues for training in this field, be sure to let us know in the comments – we’d love to hear from you.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Grief Exercises [PDF] for free.
- Bradt, J., & Goodill, S. (2013). Creative arts therapies defined: Comment on “Effects of creative arts therapies on psychological symptoms and quality of life in patients with cancer”. JAMA Internal Medicine, 173(11), 969–969.
- Degges-White, S. (2011). Introduction to the use of expressive arts in counseling. In S. Degges-White & N. Davis (Eds.), Integrating the expressive arts into counseling practice (pp. 1–6). Springer.
- Hynes, A., & Hynes-Berry, M. (2011). Biblio/poetry therapy: The interactive process: A handbook (3rd ed.). North Star Press.
- Lamb, Y. S., & Friday, W. P. S. W. (2006, September 15). Arleen Hynes, 90: Bibliotherapy pioneer. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/14/AR2006091401712.html
- New York Health Careers. (n.d.). Creative arts therapists. University at Albany, SUNY, School of Public Health. Retrieved from https://www.healthcareersinfo.net/creative-arts-therapists/
- Rossiter, C. (2004). Blessed and delighted: An interview with Arleen Hynes, poetry therapy pioneer. Journal of Poetry Therapy, 17(4), 215–222.
- Sandel, S., Chaiklin, S., & Lohn, A. (Eds.). (1993). Foundations of dance/movement therapy: The life and work of Marian Chace. American Dance Therapy Association.
- Winerman, L. (2005). Express yourself! Psychologists are bringing creative arts therapies into the mainstream. Monitor on Psychology, 2(36), 34–35.