In my work as an art therapy educator and supervisor, I serve a responsible role in the assessment of Master’s level student competencies and readiness for entry level professional art therapy practice. This task is not a simple one-step process for either teacher or student. As many current educators and students know, in 2016, the Accreditation Council of Art Therapy Education (ACATE) and The Commission of the Accreditation of Allied Health Professionals (CAAHEP) established and provided the profession of art therapy with a comprehensive list of competencies for graduates to achieve.  Therefore, during students’ matriculation through graduate art therapy programs (those that are accredited by CAAHEP or striving for accreditation) students will find defined sets of knowledge, skills, and affective/behavioral goals outlined on their program material and syllabi along with descriptions of assignments and processes that will enable them to demonstrate these essential learning outcomes.  By design, graduation from an CAAHEP Accredited Program will signify that a student is ready to step into the professional world of art therapy.

When those first professional steps are taken, it is not too early to begin thinking about preparation for the Art Therapy Credentials Board Exam (ATCBE.) Of course, I understand that most new professionals are hoping to put exams in their review mirror, but alas, Registered Art Therapists wanting to further demonstrate their competencies and become a Board-Certified Art Therapist (ATR-BC) or those who directly out of graduate school, may need to meet license requirements in a few select states, will find themselves facing another examination.  An important question to ask yourself is, how do I best prepare?

Fortunately, new professionals can be confident that their education from Approved or Accredited programs have provided them with an excellent training foundation based on educational standards, guidelines, and your achieved learning outcomes.  The Art Therapy Credentials Board has closely reviewed the CAAHEP (2016) Standards and Guidelines for the Accreditation of Educational Programs in Art Therapy, particularly related to the Curriculum Competency Requirements for Educational Programs in Art Therapy, and can confidently state that these competencies are well-matched with the ATCBE Content Outline.

What is the ATCBE Content Outline? It is the framework for subject matter included on the examination. In brief, content areas that are found on the examination include Theoretical Approaches, Intake and Evaluation, Assessment and Evaluation Instruments, Diagnoses and Populations, Art Therapy Environment, Professional Practice and Ethics, and Clinical Skills and Applications. These content areas are derived from a Job Analysis conducted by the ATCB at a minimum of every 5 years and last completed in 2017.  The job analysis process involves surveying Board Certified Art Therapists (ATR-BC’s) to determine which competencies and professional skills are expected and utilized in art therapists’ work environments.

Let’s look more specifically at how CAAHEP competencies may be related to the Content Outline of the ATCBE.  To accomplish this comparison, we will look at the ATCBE content area of Assessment and Evaluation Instruments which constitutes 10% of content covered on the ATCBE and Content Area f: Art Therapy Assessments from the CAAHEP (2016) Curriculum Competency Requirements for Educational Programs in Art Therapy. Within the CAAHEP document, the competencies regarding art therapy assessments are described in terms of knowledge, skill, and affective/behavior. These competencies note what you should be able to demonstrate regarding definitions and purposes of art therapy assessments, the applications of art therapy assessments, how the purposes of assessments assist in establishing treatment plans, ethical use of assessments and more. No art-based assessments are explicitly identified as required learning areas.  In contrast, the ATCBE Content Outline notes particular art-based frameworks and assessments that art therapists have identified utilizing in their work environments, such as the Bridge Drawing (Hays & Lyons, 1981) and Draw a Story (Silver, 2007).

Therefore, as you study for the ATCBE, it may be helpful to refer to both documents to explore and assess your knowledge, skills and behaviors regarding art therapy assessment in general and then examine how these knowledge, skills, and behaviors come into practice related to the ATCBE identified assessments. Reviewing and comparing documents may help you identify personal strengths and weaknesses and the content areas for your further study focus.

Future test takers will also benefit from reviewing other ATCB provided information such as the ATBCE Preparation Guide, most recently updated in September 2018, and the Code of Ethics, Conduct, and Disciplinary Procedures.  Both documents are available on the ATCB website.  The ATCBE Preparation Guide provides suggestions for developing an effective study plan, recommendations for readings, sample questions, and more. The ATCB Code of Ethics, Conduct, and Disciplinary Procedures thoroughly outlines the nature of competent and ethical practices required of art therapy credential holders. Did you know that the ATCB Code of Ethics, Conduct, and Disciplinary Procedures can be downloaded as an App on your phone?  See the ATCB website for helpful instructions to do so. Once downloading is accomplished, you may easily access the code to study for the ATCBE wherever you may be!

Still, getting ready for the ATCBE involves more than reviewing or studying written content.  Starting and continuing your art therapy professional work under supervision of qualified professionals will help you learn those real-world skills that are addressed in the ATCBE.  Both processes of becoming provisionally registered as an ATR-P and working towards becoming a Registered Art Therapist (ATR) provide you with a supported means to building your professional skills and readiness for success on the ATCBE.

So, thank the teachers that gave you an excellent start and welcome the wisdom of supervisors in your future. Practice those entry level competencies and build on your learning in your work settings. Be mindful of ethics.  Keep visiting the ATCB Blog: Credential Conversations and the ATCB website for up-to-date news about ethics, supervision, preparing and applying for the ATCBE and more.  Before you know it, you will have earned your post-graduate hours and be ready for the ATCBE. Status as a successful examinee will surely follow.

Written by:

Barbara-Parker Bell
PhD, ATR-BC
Past President-Art Therapy Credentials Board