Art therapy is catching on in Minnesota. Its practitioners are artists with degrees in counseling or family and marriage therapy who use a variety of art materials to help patients with mental health, chemical dependency, trauma and other issues.

Art therapists may work in hospitals, schools, nursing homes or assisted-living facilities, in corrections or in private practice, according to Craig Balfany, who heads the art therapy program at The Adler Graduate School in Richfield (www.alfredadler.edu).

Not as simple as it sounds

Balfany said art therapy is more than art techniques applied to psychotherapy. "It's about understanding yourself as an artist and as a therapist and the powerful impact that art-making has on the therapy process," he said.

Prospective art therapy students may already have art degrees, or may have nursing, education or social services backgrounds, according to Balfany. They should have a strong interest in art and must show a portfolio of their work. "It's important to have a mastery of the media," he added.

Falling in love with a career

Attending a conference on art therapy during high school cinched the field as a career choice for Jorie Kulseth, an art therapist at Northwest Youth and Family Services in Shoreview (www.nyfs.org). Kulseth said she "fell in love with using art in a healing way."

Kulseth works in the nonprofit organization's day treatment program for fifth- to 12th graders who have mental health and education challenges. "I have a very well-equipped studio to meet their needs," she said.

Her art therapy sessions are usually in group settings. "They share within their group to get feedback and support," she said. "Oftentimes, it's more comfortable and more natural for them than just sitting in a circle talking."

Art therapists are not licensed in Minnesota, but may be registered and certified by the Art Therapy Credentials Board (www.atcb.org). More information about the career is available from the American Therapy Association (www.americanarttherapyassociation.org), which has a Minnesota chapter (www.mnata.org). Kulseth recommends that art therapists make sure potential employers understand their skills and qualifications. "It's a very active process," she said. "You can't just send in your résumé."

Balfany has high hopes for art therapy in the Twin Cities area, where salaries range from $35,000 to $65,000. "Our culture locally is very rich in terms of supporting the arts and it's also very rich in terms of our health care," he said. "The art therapy piece ties these two together very well."