Careers in art therapy

Arts therapy is a term used to describe the professions of art therapy, music therapy and drama therapy. These professions are becoming more and more popular in Northern Ireland.

Careers in arts therapy

Arts therapy is a term used to describe the professions of art therapy, music therapy and drama therapy. These professions are becoming more and more popular in Northern Ireland.

Skills required

An arts therapist should have:

  • an ability to relate to people
  • sensitivity
  • maturity
  • flexibility
  • a desire to help others to be creative
  • an ability to cooperate with other professionals

Working as an arts therapist

Arts therapists work with children and adults in a variety of settings, including:

  • hospitals
  • day centres
  • hospices
  • the community
  • education - nursery, mainstream and special schools
  • prison and probation service
  • private sector

Not all arts therapists are employed by the Health and Social Care (HSC). Many are employed by charities that provide services in partnership with the HSC and other government bodies.

Professional recognition

As part of allied health professions, the regulator for arts therapists is the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC). To work as an arts therapist in the NHS and in Social Services, practitioners must have the relevant postgraduate qualification in Art Therapy/ Art Psychotherapy, Music Therapy or Drama Therapy which all lead to registration with the HCPC.

The professional titles of 'Arts Psychotherapist', 'Art Therapist', 'Drama Therapist' and 'Music Therapist' are protected. Only those registered with the Health & Care Professions Council can legally practice in the UK.

Career pathway

In Northern Ireland the Arts Therapy professions are growing. Experienced practitioners may go on to a training, supervisory or management role.

If you have any queries about your educational qualifications and eligibility for entry, you should contact the universities you may wish to study at for up to date information or further assistance.

Art therapist/ art psychotherapist

An art (psycho) therapist uses art materials to encourage self-expression and reflection. The overall aim of an art therapist is to support people in the use of art to help them deal with a range of problems.

Applicants for art therapy training should normally be graduates in an art or design subject, but qualified teachers, social workers, psychologists and other professionals with a commitment to the practice of the visual arts are also considered.

Applicants who have qualifications other than art degrees must demonstrate commitment and ability in the practice of a visual art and are required to undertake substantial amounts of art practice during their course.

Those accepted onto art therapy courses are usually mature, flexible people who have perhaps had experience of working in mental health, education, special needs or social services before applying to train as an art therapist.

Art therapy training programmes

Art Therapy post-graduate training lasts two years full-time or three years part-time. These courses are offered at a number of colleges and universities.

While there is only one training programme currently delivered in Northern Ireland, there are a number of training programmes delivered across the UK. Further details can be found on the British Association for Art Therapy and Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) websites.

Art therapists are trained in:

  • the psychology of image making
  • therapeutic relationships
  • the importance of boundaries
  • psychological and psychotherapeutic practice

Those accepted onto the training course are required as part of their training to undertake personal therapy during the whole of the course.

Music therapist

Music therapists help clients by using music creatively in a clinical setting to achieve therapeutic goals. Music therapists always need to have a high level of musicianship.

Students are normally only accepted if they have had three years' musical training leading to a diploma or degree from a college of music or from a university in music.

Very occasionally, students who hold qualifications in subjects other than music, for example education or psychology, may be accepted if they have achieved a high standard of musical performance. Assessment of personality and suitability for the work also forms part of an interview when you apply.

If you have any queries about your educational qualifications and eligibility for entry, you should contact the universities you may wish to study at for up to date information or further assistance.

Music therapy training programme

Music therapy postgraduate courses are two years full-time or three years part-time and lead to a master’s qualification in music therapy. This leads to registration with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC).

All universities offering the programmes have slightly different content, however most courses use a mixture of practical and theoretical training methods. The practical elements usually concentrate on clinical placements in a variety of settings, such as schools and hospitals. The emphasis is usually on working with children, adolescents and adults under supervision of a qualified music therapist.

The theoretical sections of the programme can include weekly lectures, seminars and practical workshops in wide range of areas, such as:

  • psychology
  • music therapy studies
  • group dynamics
  • improvisation
  • general musicianship

There are no training courses currently available in Northern Ireland. However, details of the courses in the UK can be found on the HCPC website.

Details of the UK courses and the course in the Republic of Ireland can be found on the NI Music Therapy Trust website.

Those who complete the course in the Republic of Ireland or any non UK course must apply for international state registration by the HCPC.

Drama therapist

The majority of applicants for drama therapy training are normally graduates in drama. However, qualified teachers, therapists, social workers and those holding other appropriate professional qualifications are also considered.

Applicants also usually need to have personal involvement in drama, theatre or education and be involved in one of the caring professions.

If you have any queries about your educational qualifications and eligibility for entry, you should contact the institutions you wish to study at for up to date information or further assistance.

Drama therapy training programmes

Drama therapy courses are at Masters level and last between 18 months and three years, depending on whether the course is taken on a full or part-time basis. Courses lead to registration with the Health & Care Professions Council.

Common components among the various courses include:

  • experience and competence in a broad range of drama and theatre skills
  • understanding and awareness of relevant psychological, psychotherapeutic and anthropological principles and practices
  • participation in an ongoing, experiential drama therapy training group
  • knowledge of related therapies such as art, music, dance/movement and play
  • supervised drama therapy practice
  • continuous assessment and written work
  • personal development and therapy 

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