hand holding a magnifying glass over a book with watercolour marks inside; the handwritten words "art therapist" are enlarged by the magnifying glass

In Search of an Art Therapist:
Referrals, Recommendations, and the Wild West of the Internet

Finding a therapist for your child can feel like an overwhelming task. There are many emotions and factors involved when families begin to consider art therapy. Typically, dealing with your child’s current situation is really difficult. And if someone has suggested art therapy, you may feel pressure to get things started, anxiety about the process, hesitant hope for positive outcomes, or maybe a sense of guilt or shame that seeking help is even necessary. These are all common emotions to be experiencing.

It’s a significant decision to look into art therapy. If you’re reading this, it means you are already doing it and I want to acknowledge your bravery. But once you’ve made the decision, where do you begin looking?

Photo by Kayla Farmer

Referrals

The clearest first step is if someone has made a referral for you. Maybe your pediatrician or naturopath has suggested an art therapist or even contacted them on your behalf. This usually means that the referring professional has worked with the therapist before – they know and trust them. This is a wonderful starting point and can make the initial search more straightforward.

However, because art therapy isn’t covered by OHIP, your child’s therapy will most likely be paid for by your insurance plan or by you privately. So even if you’ve been given a referral, the decision about who you want to work with is yours entirely. This means that if you meet the therapist you’ve been referred to and it feels like a good fit, great! But if you meet them and feel unsure, you’re completely free to keep looking.

Photo by Nik MacMillan

Recommendations

Another great starting point is a recommendation from someone you trust. If a friend or family member has tried art therapy, you can ask them if they are open to sharing about their experience and whether they would recommend their therapist.

Other people to consider asking might include your child’s coach or leader from extra-curricular activities, the guidance counsellor or child and youth worker at their school, or one of your family’s existing supports such as a tutor, chiropractor, or an occupational therapist.

Ideally, if you’re looking for a therapist for your child, ask someone who already has a sense of your family’s style and your child’s needs. Chances are that they’ve been asked for this kind of a recommendation before, so they might have a few options to offer you!

Photo by Lalo Hernandez

Searching the Internet 

If you don’t know who to ask for a recommendation, or if you don’t feel comfortable doing so (which is totally okay!), the next place to look is probably the internet. If you google “art therapist in my area,” the top search results will most likely be from Psychology Today.

Psychology Today is a massive world-wide mental health directory that connects prospective clients with services in their area. Therapists pay a monthly fee to have a profile in the directory. When you search the site based on your location, you receive a list of the closest therapists. Each therapist has a profile page that includes a personal description, details about their education and credentials, a list of their specialties, their treatment approach, and their contact information.

It’s important to note that while Psychology Today verifies each therapist’s registrations, certifications and licenses, the “treatment approach” section is completed at the therapist’s discretion. If you are looking for an art therapist specifically, Psychology Today makes this a bit more confusing. “Art therapy” is an option on the treatment list, and any mental health professional can select it.

So basically, lots of therapists list art therapy as something they offer, but they are NOT all art therapists.

If a therapist doesn’t have specific training in art therapy, the service they’re offering isn’t the same as what a professional art therapist would be providing. It’s a technique or an occasional activity, rather than the foundational framework they use to practice therapy.

Finding an Art Therapist

Whether you are looking at profiles on Psychology Today or browsing individual therapy websites, here are a few tips for finding an art therapist:

  • Look at the therapist’s education to see if they have specific art therapy training (for example, a graduate diploma from the Toronto Art Therapy Institute, or a Masters in Creative Arts Therapies from Concordia University).
  • See if they are part of the Canadian Art Therapy Association (CATA) or the Ontario Art Therapy Association (OATA). Both of these associations have art therapist directories you can explore by following the links.
  • You can also check out the letters after the therapist’s name. For example, look for RCAT (Registered Canadian Art Therapist), ATR (Registered Art Therapist) or ATR-BC (Board Certified Art Therapist). For a full break-down of post-nominal letters and what they mean, check out this post!
Photo by Nordwood Themes

Reaching Out

Once you find a website or profile that you like, the next step is to contact the therapist. This part can feel intimidating. I want to reassure you that as the client, you are in full control of what happens. You can say as much or as little as you like. Really, this first contact is just to express your interest and ask for a response.

Your first voicemail or email can be as simple as this:

“Hello! I’m interested in learning more about art therapy for my child. I would like to request a free meeting/ phone consultation as offered on your site/ profile. I’m looking forward to hearing back from you.”

And that’s it! Hit send.

Since you already have an introductory message now, why not send it to a few therapists? If they offer free meetings or phone calls, I encourage you to take them up on it. The best way to get a sense of whether you can imagine yourself and your child working with someone is to meet them.

If you’re wondering what it might be like to work with me, I offer a free introductory meeting. I am also happy to support your therapist search via phone or email. I’ll have more tips to share here in the coming weeks. Until then, happy searching!

Written by Rubi Garyfalakis, DTATI, RP, RCAT