NHS Scotland Guide to Careers as an Arts Therapist

Arts Therapy is increasingly recognised as a valuable treatment for people with a wide range of problems. Arts Therapists – who specialise in art, drama or music – use their chosen art form as a therapeutic intervention to help people with physical, mental, social and emotional difficulties. They work in many settings, including child or adult psychiatry, learning disabilities, forensic medicine and palliative care. As an Arts Therapist, you would be an autonomous professional, with your own caseload of patients, but you would also be part of a highly skilled multi-disciplinary team. Your role would be quite different to that of a teacher. Your aim would be to help your clients to communicate, to express their feelings, and to explore their lives and problems through the medium of your chosen art form – music, art or drama. Arts Therapy can be especially valuable for people who are difficult to engage, for those with limited or no verbal communication, and for those who find other therapies too stressful.

Arts Therapists have to be highly knowledgeable and accomplished in music, art or drama. But as healthcare professionals, they also need to be able to relate to their clients and to help them to cope with the powerful emotions that are sometimes released during therapy. Arts Therapists also need a high level of self-awareness, and their training involves personal therapy.

Entry Requirements
An Art Therapist needs a degree in art and design or a relevant subject, plus at least a year’s full-time experience working in health, social services or education. Qualified teachers, therapists and other professionals with a longstanding commitment to the visual arts are also considered.

A Music Therapist usually needs to have completed a three-year course leading to a qualification from a college of music or to a university music degree. Alternative qualifications in a subject such as education or psychology may be accepted if students can show a high standard of musical performance.

A Drama Therapist needs a degree in a relevant subject, such as drama or psychology, or another appropriate professional qualification, plus appropriate clinical experience and experience of practical drama work.

To work as an Arts Therapist in the NHS or social services you need a Master’s Degree from a course approved by the Health Professions Council. These courses – full-time or part-time – are available at a number of colleges and universities. For details of recognised courses in Scotland contact Queen Margaret University College.

Career Prospects
Experienced practitioners may go on to a training, supervisory or management role, perhaps as head of an Arts Therapy Department. Some arts therapists go on to take further training in psychotherapy.

In Scotland, degree courses in Arts Therapy are offered by Queen Margaret University College Department of Occupational Therapy, Art Therapy and Music Therapy.

Further Information
The British Association of Art Therapists
The Association of Professional Music Therapists
The British Association of Drama Therapists