Differing Levels of Art Therapy Education in Canada

In Canada, there are two levels of art therapy education: diploma programs like the ones offered at VATI – a post-graduate diploma, and Master’s degrees in art therapy (offered by only 4 degree-granting universities in Canada).  

Finding the right level of art therapy education for you really depends on the type of work you want to do when you graduate.

If you already have a Master’s degree in another subject (i.e., counselling, social work, psychology, etc.), you might want to add the art therapy knowledge and skills through either of our diploma program streams (AD program or 18-month diploma streams), rather than completing a second Master’s degree. A VATI diploma allows graduates to call themselves art therapists and practice under that title. VATI graduates with a Master’s degree could potentially also register with counselling organizations such as the BCACC, CCPA, CRPO, etc., and then be eligible to be funded by clients’ extended health benefits. Ontario is currently one of the exceptions provincially, as graduates of VATI who do not have a Master’s degree can apply to the CRPO to eventually become a registered psychotherapist.

If you have a Bachelor’s degree you might want to consider completing our 18-month diploma program (or AD program if you also have significant work experience), to earn the title of art therapist. Many of our BA level graduates eventually add the Master’s degree in counselling so they will be competitive with other Master’s level counsellors when applying for work in hospitals, agencies, and schools that often require an MA or MC to be eligible to apply. This is where our affiliation (transfer credit) agreement with Athabasca University is very useful! Having either VATI diploma will allow for the transfer of up to 12 VATI credits into AU’s Master of Counselling Degree (saving time and money!).

Starting with an art therapy diploma program (offered for less time and money than a full Master’s degree) has the advantage of teaching skills and creating experiences (with 700 hours of clinical placements) in the field that are invaluable when applying to a Master’s degree program. Some diploma students at the BA level do find work directly in the field without a Master’s degree, and/or operate very successful art therapy private practices. Please note, that with a BA degree, VATI Diploma graduates are also eligible to register with the CRPO in Ontario. We are a recognized program with the CRPO, which means that if you are applying for registration, you do not need to provide detailed information about your education and training, thus simplifying the application process.

In this current world of credential inflation, we will always recommend having or eventually pursuing a Master’s degree to be fully competitive in today’s mental health workforce. However, the VATI diploma or advanced diploma can be a great option to add to an existing Master’s degree, or to have before applying to a Master’s program (in the case of VATI students, one of the programs that makes the most sense is AU’s Master of Counselling program for the reasons already outlined), or potentially it can be the end destination for finding work or opening a successful private art therapy practice at the Bachelor’s level. However, not being able to have your clients access their extended health benefits will ultimately mean that it will be harder to build a successful private practice, as clients whose insurance will cover the costs of some or all of their sessions will most likely seek out a therapist who has the needed designation. This is also why you may see some art therapists who don’t have these designations charging less for their services and below the recommended fee ranges of art therapists who have the RCC designation in BC or RP designation in Ontario (i.e., see https://bcacc.ca/find-a-counsellor/fee-schedule/). Along with this, there are fewer employment opportunities in provinces such as BC where the minimum qualification for many counselling positions is a Master’s degree.

Choosing the right level of art therapy education is an important consideration when looking at our two diploma program offerings.

A final note regarding the two levels of education identified here. There is potentially a third level of art therapy education – an art therapy diploma for students who do not have a Bachelor’s degree but have a prior learning assessment (PLAR) administered by some art therapy schools.

When universities use this process, they are assessing applicants’ knowledge and skills for the purpose of awarding credit. VATI sometimes gets asked by prospective students whether we recognize prior learning and experience. As a school, we have opted out of this process given the realities of the job market as it relates to graduates of counselling programs (which includes art therapy training programs).  As a non-degree-granting institution, we cannot provide students with the opportunity to gain credits that are recognized by colleges or universities (unless there is an affiliation agreement in place and this in turn only applies to post-graduate courses). A graduate of an art therapy diploma who does not have a Bachelor’s degree will encounter an additional significant hurdle or wall to being employed in the counselling field and as an art therapist. 

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