The 10 Best Art Therapy Schools in the US

A career in art therapy is an excellent option for people seeking to merge a passion for fine arts with a desire to help people. 

Art therapists work with all age groups, genders, and ethnicities to support them in managing a range of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, substance use disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Most undergraduate and graduate programs in art therapy will stipulate a strong foundation in psychology and studio art experience. 

Student-led research and field experiences are cornerstones of an art therapy program, providing future art therapists with the opportunity to work in schools, juvenile detention centers, psychiatric hospitals, and other organizations focused on providing social services to diverse populations.

To become an art therapist, you must obtain a license, and the requirements vary by state. 

Therefore, it is essential to research the specific requirements listed in the state where you wish to practice art therapy before applying to graduate programs. 

Art therapy continues to grow as a popular career and treatment option. An entry-level art therapist can expect to earn between $40,000 and $50,000 annually out of college; of course, salary figures vary based on geographic location.

Here are 10 of the best art therapy schools in the U.S. These schools were chosen as they are regularly ranked among the top art therapy programs in online publications, such as College Factual and 

New York University (New York, NY)

New York University
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

NYU’s art therapy MA boasts a 100% graduation and post-graduate job placement rate. 

The 60-credit program compels students to apply clinical knowledge to a range of real-world contexts, provides them with opportunities to work with diverse populations facing social barriers to obtaining support, and culminates in a final project, wherein students present independent research findings at a conference to their colleagues.

A recent example of a student research project focuses on exploring art therapy’s impact in treating people with Parkinson’s disease. 

Preliminary results suggest noteworthy improvements in patients’ overall motor function and psychological well-being. 

In these types of endeavors, art therapy students examine the correlation between participation in specific art media and corresponding changes in brain function, as revealed by brain imaging equipment.

Living in New York City means students will have increased access to art museums, galleries, workshops, and other facilities. Additionally, events like the NYU Creative Arts Therapies Consortium draw experts from all over the world to discuss the future of art therapy.

Drexel University (Philadelphia, PA)

Drexel University
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Students can pursue an MA or Ph.D. in art therapy and counseling at Drexel University, the first higher learning institution in the U.S.A. to matriculate art therapy students. 

The MA program requires students to complete 90 quarter credits to meet the Pennsylvania Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) requirements for licensure.

Field experience is a signature component of the Drexel art therapy MA. Students can expect to complete two to three practicums in settings like psychiatric hospitals, interdisciplinary behavioral health facilities, and foster care centers. 

After attending in-person classes from fall through spring, students participate in online courses throughout the summer, enabling them to engage in field experiences outside the Philadelphia region.

One example of an art therapy elective course is Addictions and Recovery Art Therapy Approaches. Participants examine how eating disorders, addictions, and hoarding behaviors can be treated using creative processes as a means to concretize feelings, inner turmoil, and motivations.

Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL)

Florida State University
SeminoleNation, Florida State University Psychology Courtyard, CC BY-SA 4.0

FSU’s art therapy program has consistently been ranked among the best in the nation. Whether you pursue an MS in art therapy or a Ph.D. in art education (with a specialization in art therapy), you can expect a course of study that prioritizes student opportunities for research and experiential education.

An average graduate art therapy cohort ranges from 16-20 students, ensuring an intimate student-to-faculty ratio of 5:1. 

Social justice themes are woven throughout the MS curriculum, emphasizing the inequities that various marginalized populations may face in their attempts to seek mental health diagnoses and treatment. 

In the Ph.D. sequence, students receive dedicated mentorship in their efforts to fill existing gaps within the art therapy research niche. The Ph.D. usually takes four to six years to complete, culminating in a dissertation.

George Washington University (Washington, DC)

George Washington University
Difference engine, President’s Office, George Washington University, CC BY-SA 4.0

Founded in 1971, GWU’s art therapy program stands out from peer institutions through its combination of trauma training, internship placements, and global partnerships. 

All art therapy graduate students complete trauma training in year two, where they work with on-site clients in the GW Art Therapy Clinic on a range of cases.

Study abroad opportunities entice students to travel to places like Lebanon, Croatia, and Hong Kong, where student-led research opportunities and trainings abound. 

Service learning is typically a significant component of these programs, where students work with diverse communities experiencing unique mental health phenomena.

Another exciting offering is the combined BA in psychological and brain science and MA in art therapy degree, wherein undergraduates may complete 12 graduate credits on an accelerated timeline. 

Regardless of which program students enroll in, they will collaborate with various community outreach partners, including the Andrews Air Force Base Wounded Warriors Program, Wendt Center for Loss and Healing, and U.S. Senate Wellness Fair organizers.

Temple University (Philadelphia, PA)

Temple University
Dorevabelfiore, Temple University Paley Library Front View, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Tyler School of Art and Architecture at Temple University offers a BA in art therapy. In addition to practicums in therapeutic settings, undergraduates at Temple additionally devote time to creating their own art installations. 

One example of an interdisciplinary project – Hope Springs – prompts students to tell a story in response to the theme of “hope” using mixed materials. 

These are the kinds of projects they might support future clients in creating via art therapy treatment. Through assigning creative projects to students, Temple seeks to provide insight into how a client experiences various modes of art therapy.

Temple’s Tyler School of Art and Architecture maintains a 250k+ square foot facility that houses ample workshops, classroom spaces, courtyards, and meeting rooms – all of which are conducive to student collaboration. 

Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville (Edwardsville, IL)

Art creation is emphasized at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. Here, only ten students are admitted to the highly selective MA in art therapy each autumn. 

Graduate students work alongside practicing art therapists in various urban, rural, and suburban settings to gain exposure to diverse populations and their mental health needs. Practicum experiences take place in juvenile detention centers, Head Start settings, and schools, for example.

All art therapy graduate students undergo a first-year review process before working with clients in a therapeutic setting. 

Years two and three involve 15-25 hours of on-site work on a weekly basis – each student will complete one practicum with children or teenagers and another with adult clients. By the end of the program, graduates will have a minimum of 800 hours of clinical practicum experience.

School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, IL)

The SAIC’s MA in art therapy and counseling consists of 42 core credits, nine hours of fieldwork, an optional six-hour art therapy thesis or three-hour graduate project, and three to six credits in studio electives.

In a class like Disability Studies: Reimagining Bodies, students examine the intersectionality of disabilities and other social identifiers while attending various disability cultural events, creating multimedia art representations, and more.

In addition to the MA sequence, undergraduates may also enroll in a host of introductory-level courses

The institute opens access to classes like The Creative Process as Art Therapy, where undergraduates engage in studio work and compare Eastern approaches, Jungian methods, and other treatments with the effort to develop an essential “toolbox” for future clients coming to them with a range of psychological needs. 

In another course like Ritual and Artmaking in Healing, students explore how various cultures use daily rituals and milestones to achieve physical and mental healing.

Pratt Institute (Brooklyn, NY)

Pratt Institute
Jim.henderson, Higgins Institute Pratt jeh, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Pratt Institute’s creative arts therapy program gives students a chance to become a psychotherapist specializing in either art or dance movement. 

Both MPS options consist of 60 credits combining theoretical and practical applications in art/dance therapy. This program may be best suited for aspiring therapists seeking a broader program of studies instead of intense specialization in one area of focus.

Typically, graduate art therapy students will enroll in 15-week courses during the fall and spring semesters while simultaneously participating in internships from September through May. 

There is a low-residency option where students are only required to complete fieldwork in the spring semester if scheduling is a limitation.

Students complete interdisciplinary research studies in an area of interest. In one example, a graduate student used the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory to measure stress levels by collecting saliva samples from participants. 

The student researcher concluded that baking (as a therapeutic arts activity) effectively decreases cortisol levels in adult patients living with anxiety.

University of Indianapolis (Indianapolis, IN)

The MA in mental health counseling at the University of Indianapolis advertises an art therapy track

Admitted students must have obtained 18 credits in studio art and 12 credits in psychology, with abnormal psychology and developmental psychology serving as mandatory prerequisites.

Classes occur during the day and evening, and all students complete a practicum and an internship. 

The MA can be completed in as few as five semesters. Graduate students gain experience with modalities like drawing, ceramics, and painting – all mediums they might employ as treatment approaches once they become licensed art therapists.

Undergraduates can additionally major in pre-art therapy/studio art. In this case, the curriculum immerses BA candidates in a foundation of psychology to prepare them for future field placements in rehabilitation centers, schools, and outpatient treatment facilities.

Long Island University (Brookville, NY)

LIU’s MA in clinical art therapy and counseling is generally capped at under 25 students and includes a healthy international student population. 

Graduate art therapy students can select to engage in internship placements from a list of 100+ training sites in order to complete the mandatory 700 hours of internship experience.

A holistic art therapy education prioritizes studio work, research, grant writing, and an annual social action project

In recent years, art therapy cohorts have worked in orphanages in Nicaragua, South Korea, and Russia, to name a few locales.

The LIU Post Interprofessional Simulation Center is one of the hallmarks of the school’s art therapy program. Here, students engage in educational simulations to learn techniques, hone skills, and grow in confidence. They may use cutting-edge medical equipment and digital technology to adjust debriefing conversations, encourage client retention, and strengthen community partnerships.

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