With a new batch of art therapy students about to start the job search, I am being asked about what types of jobs they should be looking for. I have had a variety of jobs in multiple settings. Some were explicitly art therapy jobs and in others I had to be more creative about integrating the arts into my work. Let me tell you about my first job out of school.
Honestly, and I don’t mean to scare you off, it took me a solid year after getting my master’s degree to find a job in the field that met my needs. My first job was as a master’s level clinician at a large mental health agency. I worked in Elder Services and spent ALOT of time driving around to various nursing homes. I had to bill for 28 hours a week which was no small task. I only saw individuals for treatment, there were no groups because the billable rate was higher for individual therapy than group therapy. It was tough work. My clients were all very ill with both medical and psychiatric conditions. The work consisted of dealing with issues both large and small. I could spend an hour with someone helping them deal with an annoying roommate and then spend the next hour helping someone else work with their sadness over their loss of functioning. On several occasions I came into work to find that a client had passed away suddenly. I was at this job for two years. I was fortunate to have had a supervisor who was both an art therapist and a licensed mental health counselor. This supervision enabled me to garner my own credentials.This job was not specifically geared towards art therapy but I was more than welcome to bring it into the work I did with clients. I had a tool chest that was filled with art supplies that I carried around to all of my sessions. I called it my “have art, will travel” box. I was prepared if a client wanted to do some art making but was also available just to talk if that was what they wanted.
This job wasn’t necessarily my dream job, but it helped me along my journey. I learned so much during my two years there. I can still see the faces of many of my clients and vividly remember their stories. It was an immensely moving experience to walk a little bit down the road with them. I wouldn’t trade my time spent there for anything.
When you are just starting out, it can feel very frustrating to search the job boards and not see art therapy positions listed anywhere. I am here to tell you that it is entirely possible to get a job in this field and to find satisfying work. Here are a few tips for the job hunt: Ask about the type and amount of documentation you will be required to do. Ask whether this documentation will be something you are paid for-some jobs expect you to do this outside of your 40 hours and it is unpaid. Find out if there is a licensed professional in your discipline anywhere in the agency you are applying to. There may not be one in the department you will be working in, but there may be someone in the agency who can work with you. Expect to apply for jobs that don’t have “art therapy” anywhere in the job description. Get REALLY good at explaining what you do and how it can benefit the site. Get creative-about places you apply to, about how you can integrate the arts into their site, about how to shape your work life. Network, network, network. This is as simple as staying in touch with your professors and fellow students, attending gatherings, getting involved in professional organizations and joining online groups. Print up some business cards and give them to everyone you meet. Don’t give up. I almost did and boy am I glad I stuck with it through the difficult times. You can shape the career you are dreaming of. It may not be easy, but it is possible. May the wind be at your back.