There are many misconceptions about every different major you can think of. Some are more pervasive than others and some majors experience much more side-eye glances from their peers (you know the kinds of looks I’m talking about). The liberal arts have notoriously been taken for granted and regarded as lesser degrees than almost anything else, but especially majors like business or biology (just to list the more popular ones). Perhaps one of the majors that experiences the most condescension is the art major. Most people think the art major has it easy – that they do not have as much work as other students. All they have to do is paint stuff, right? Maybe people think that it’s something like finger painting when we were in elementary school or something. Even worse still, it seems that many people think that the art major is strictly a solitary experience, an isolated career for the glory only of the artist, with no real-world application. This may be true to a certain extent. Art is very often an expression of the individual’s vision. However, this doesn’t mean that art, and the very process of creating itself, cannot influence people and the world.
Art therapy is a relatively new field that combines several fields of education including but not limited to art, psychology and human development. According to The Art Therapy Blog, Art therapy “is a form of expressive therapy that uses the creative process of making art to improve a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being.” Currently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t collect data on art therapists specifically, instead including this profession under “therapists, all other.” The more specific numbers are provided by the American Art Therapy Association, which currently estimates 5,000 members in the United States who own approximately between $30,000 and $80,000. The numbers tell us a few things about the profession, depending on how you think about it. Some people may look at the number 5,000 and think this means that it is more difficult to get a job as an art therapist. This may be true, but when I look at these numbers, I see a field bursting with opportunities for artists to apply their craft to this cutting-edge mental health profession.
Though many people may not have even heard of art therapy (I certainly hadn’t before my friend shared her aspirations), it is actually practiced on a bigger scale than people think. On the American Art Therapy Association’s website they state that art therapy is “practiced in a wide variety of settings including hospitals, psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities, wellness centers, forensic institutions, schools, crisis centers, senior communities, private practice, and other clinical and community settings. “ Many people can benefit from art therapy depending on what their personal needs are. And as it seems, there is an added bonus to art therapy beyond resolving internal conflict: learning, practicing and enjoying the “life-affirming pleasures of art making.” Not only can art therapy help someone work through the problems that already exist in their life, it can also add to their quality of life by encouraging them to practice art beyond the therapist’s office.
An art therapist is required to get a master’s in a selected field related to therapy and then the Art Therapy Credentials Board, Inc must credit them as a licensed professional. Like many other professions, an art therapist is required to go through rigorous academic training, especially because their chosen field involves a broad interconnection of studies including psychotherapeutic theories, “knowledge of visual art (drawing, painting, sculpture, and other art forms) and the creative process, as well as of human development, psychological, and counseling theories and techniques” (AATA). It may seem to others like the art major isn’t engaging in valuable study, but of course, this simply isn’t true only because bigger institutions do not see the value in the arts.
Art therapy is only one of the many professions that an art major could eventually pursue. The message to gain from this career profile is simply that misconceptions about career opportunities or about the usefulness of a particular subject can be harmful not only to the people who study them but also to those who may not benefit from the knowledge that someone has to offer because they were discouraged from seeking anything beyond what they were told they could do. Every major, even if others cannot see it, has valuable insight and information to share. And besides, as I mentioned in my first post, a major is only a course of study, not a stone that has your destiny engraved in it.