It’s that time again. New art therapists are walking the stage, collecting their diplomas and wondering what the heck they are going to do next. Especially at a time when it seems like there are no jobs of any kind out there, how does one find an art therapy job? Given the time and money invested in getting a master’s degree, frustration and pressure can rise as the job search goes on.
Here is my advice. You are most likely not going to find the job of your dreams straight out of school. What you will be able to find is a job that will help you get your clinical license and your art therapy credentials so that down the road you can get the job of your dreams. Don’t be afraid to hold out for a little while until you can find a job that suits your needs in terms of benefits, clinical experience and supervision. You are probably aware by now that a huge salary is not coming your way but don’t be afraid to negotiate and find something that suits your needs. No need to undersell yourself.
There are many ways of working as an art therapist. One is to land a full-time job. Inquire about what type of supervision you will be able to receive. You may be able to find someone within the agency who can give you the supervision hours you need for your license. This is a huge job benefit and will save you a great deal of money. Don’t be afraid to apply for jobs that are not explicitly art therapy jobs. A clinical position at an agency can be a foot in the door and you can market your additional skills as an art therapist. They may not have known they were looking for an art therapist until you showed up! My first job was at a mental health agency as an elder services clinician. They did not hire me specifically as an art therapist but were happy to have me work as one. There was someone in the agency who was an ATR and LMHC who provided my supervision. It was a win-win because the supervision was on the clock for both of us and I did not have to pay for outside supervision. Within 2 years I had my credentials and moved on to another job.
Another way of working is to pick up per diem and fee for service work. It is sometimes necessary or desirable to do this in addition to a full-time job. Many sites do not have the funding to hire a full-time art therapist but are able to bring someone in for a few hours a week. It is worth it to pursue these positions because it could turn into something more and you are networking as well. Fee for service work is tricky because if the client doesn’t show up, you don’t get paid. Paperwork is done on your own time and it can be significant. Travel time is often not reimbursed. However, it is a good way to gain experience and supplement your income. You often can work in a wide range of settings and with diverse populations as well. I have worked in homeless shelters, schools, nursing homes, clients’ homes, hospitals, adolescent group homes and elder housing as a fee for service clinician. I loved working in so many different settings. The work was interesting and I gained a great deal of experience.
My final piece of advice: Network. Network. Network. Massage every connection you have. Stay in touch with supervisors, professors and fellow students. Join online groups. Attend conferences and workshops. Print up some business cards and give them to everyone you meet. I found my current job through a former professor. My previous job was found through a former supervisor. People hear about positions all the time and you have to keep your name and face in front of them. Hang in there. Working as an art therapist is possible. It is not always easy and I have certainly had my share of struggles so I won’t sugarcoat the challenges we face in the job market. But it can be done. Best wishes to you on your journey.