One of the most frequent questions we get asked is how do I become an expressive arts therapist?
As our tutor Irene Dudley-Swarbrick explains, that question needs to be answered in the context of counselling and psychotherapy training in the UK…
In an earlier blog we outlined the differences in the UK between art therapist/art therapy and expressive art therapy/expressive arts therapist. Remember – Art Therapist is a protected title in the UK, much like ‘Nurse’ or ‘Social Worker’. Unless you’ve done a very specific training route you cannot use a protected title to describe your work, so you can’t say you offer Art Therapy. Nope. Don’t do that.
How to become an Expressive Arts Therapist is not yet clear in the UK. Just as counselling and psychotherapy isn’t regulated in the UK, neither is the practice of offering Expressive Art Therapy (ExAT) or the required training.
What follows then is my response as a Creative Supervisor and someone who has been involved for nearly eight years in the training and development of counsellors and psychotherapists up to postgraduate level. As well as the design and implementation of training programmes controlled by regulatory bodies in the UK Higher Education academy, including the only UK masters in Contemporary Creative Approaches to Counselling and Psychotherapy.
To safely and ethically practice and claim status as an Expressive Art Therapist in the UK you must first complete a recognised counselling or psychotherapy training in talking therapy at a minimum of Level 4.
After that, you would undertake further training specifically in ExAT. So, let’s consider that route first for those with counselling qualifications.
Training to become an Expressive Arts Therapist with an existing counselling qualification:
#1 – Look for training that offers at least 50 guided learning hours, within a coherent design that requires as a minimum: creative portfolio development, reading of key texts, reflexive Journalling (in expressive media), client practice hours, supervision, and a form of summative (final) assessment.
Training should help you to understand (again at a UK academic level at least equivalent to a Level 4) just why you’re doing ExAT in the way you do. This matters. As a therapist you must be able to explain not only when you would offer expressive media but also when not. You need the learning that helps you think about your practice. This is about ‘praxis’ – action informed by theory. This is what will safely ground your practice, and how you can manage the ‘situated ethics’ of practising as an Expressive Art Therapist.
#2 – It might seem obvious, but look for training that is intermodal and experiential – you need to experience, express, and explore for yourself and with others different media within “movement, sound, storytelling, and silence”, as Cathy Malchiodi has it in her model. Or the healing salves of the Creative Connection, as Natalie Rogers has it. There should be attention to ‘feeling the theory’ and how it works for you. This is the reflexive sensing and feeling part of what needs to be offered in a programme, and what will deepen your capacity for working relationally with clients.
#3 – Chose a programme that aligns with your values, and your view of the person. What does it mean to you to be human? If your background is psychodynamic or behavioural, can you open yourself to working differently with a client’s agency? What is the ‘helping theory’ of the tutors? Be sure to have a sense of the ethos of the programme, how it connects to the challenges of contemporary counselling and psychotherapy. Here your intuitive, gut instinct, can speak and respond to what you have identified in what I outlined in #1 and #2 above.
When brought together, reflection on #1, #2, and #3 should give you confidence that your chosen training programme will take you further in your therapeutic developmental agenda (reflexivity) for praxis (your actions informed by theory).
Training while studying for Level 4 or higher counselling qualification:
Good news! If you do ExAT training alongside your talking therapy training, then once you have graduated with your Level 4 or above counselling qualification you can practice as an Expressive Arts Therapist. Before that, if you have completed ExAT training you should expect the training organisation to maintain that this will count as CPD. On graduation you should expect the training organisation to have a mechanism to convert your award on evidence of your counselling qualification. It may be that there is an additional requirement to evidence use of ExAT with clients.
Training to become an Expressive Arts Therapist without a counselling qualification:
There are different considerations now. You might work in other helping professions such as teaching, social work, nursing, psychology, health and social care. If you work to a code of practice within a professional body and offer therapeutic work to clients, you might want to add ExAT for its therapeutic benefit of not relying on words for communication.
Again, in the UK the situation is not as elsewhere, and use of ExAT training becomes both an ethical and practical consideration.
Ethically, you cannot contract with clients for a counselling relationship; and nor, from a practical perspective, would you get insurance to work as an Expressive Arts Therapist, as insurers would want to confirm that you had recognised counselling training at least at Level 4.
In this scenario you would be undertaking CPD training to support and enhance your existing professional therapeutic work, and evidencing that you have appropriate additional training to feel confident in using creative and expressive media with clients. This is the difference between offering an experience that might prove therapeutic but is not described as therapy or you are describing yourself as a therapist.
At Jill Carter Training we offer CPD and training courses in Expressive Art Therapy. They align with the education and training standards of the National Counselling Society, and they are delivered by experienced expressive arts therapists: Dr Irene Dudley-Swarbrick, and Heather Joy Rimmer. Both Heather and Irene integrate current research and practice into their teaching, practice, and supervision, with colour, joy, warmth, and compassion.
We offer a route designed to ensure that you understand how to ethically and safely offer integrative expressive art therapy with clients. The first step is to join our Introduction Weekend – a two-day CPD programme and the first part of our carefully designed process to ensure the intermodal approach that we offer resonates with you and meets your needs.
There is limited opportunity in the UK for a coherent and accessible approach to training in Expressive Arts Therapy. That’s where we come in!
You can book the introductory weekends on the website here. The groups are small about 8 to 10 people and all creative materials are supplied. The weekends cost £300 inc. VAT
Irene is also running a face-to-face Certificate in Expressive Creative Arts starting in September 2023. You can read about it here There will be a lot of demand for this course, so if you are interested, please contact Lindsey at firstname.lastname@example.org