On Our Mind: Thoughts from Mark & Michelle Dean

Art Psychotherapists: What is Your Worth?

by Michelle Dean 06-06-2014 | 5:47PDT | Comments (18)


I am often consulted for advice from art therapists regarding professional questions and concerns. Here is one, from an art therapist in a major metropolitan city in the US. She has given me permission to share this because she and I both felt it an important topic to contemplate and discuss.

Question: “I was asked what I would charge to do an art therapy group for a newly opening clinic. When I told them my fee, (the going rate in this area is $125 for a private practice hour and insurance reimburses $50 – $125) they were shocked because they wanted to pay $30/group hour. Are art therapists accepting that pay rate in other clinics?”

Response: Under all circumstances $30 an hour for a Master’s level mental health worker is not equitable pay.  But let’s run through a few other factors that may make sense in terms of the gap between what you were requesting and what they are offering and then I will do a final price break down at the end and show why you would most likely find yourself in the red at the end of the year, if this is what most of your work opportunities were like.exchangable parts

There is a big difference when you provide fee-for-service work, also known as contract work, and employee wages. When the company reports your earnings on a 1099, you are self-employed. Employees paid on a W-2 status usually have benefits (i.e., health and life insurance, flexible spending account, paid days off, employer contributions to a retirement plan, and sometimes tuition reimbursement). When you are self-employed you do not have paid time off and you must pay for your own benefits as well as pay the employer part of the taxes, which, can be a big deal and add up to thousands of dollars per year depending on your income (between 12% – 15% of your earnings).

Second, knowing the number of groups per week they would like you to run at this rate as well as how are you compensated for documentation and/or treatment team meetings will be important. Obviously, the more groups and compensated time there, the better. You can make the most of your time if you are running three groups a day in one place, rather than three groups on three separate days. To leave the house for an hour appointment, there is a usually a commitment of approximately three hours:

  1. The hour to get ready, drive to the location, and prepare for the session,
  2. The hour for the session itself, and
  3. Then the time to clean up, leave some communication with other team members, and most likely documentation (which can extend this time considerably) and then the ride home. 

And although you are technically not getting paid for travel you must consider this time in your worth, as we all have 24 hours in a day, no more, so you cannot fill this time with another job, time with your kids, or time making your own art.

Third, the market may be very saturated with mental health clinicians willing to work for anything. Sometimes there are many hungry new professionals, paraprofessionals, and students willing and able to take whatever work they can, thus undercutting clinicians with years of experience, appropriate credentials, and expertise. For many new graduates, $30 per group may sound really good (mostly because they may not fully appreciate their professionalism yet, nor do they fully comprehend the investment of their time, or because they are desperate with the thought of looming student loans and other living expenses).

Regardless of the stated terms, consider the added expense of liability insurance. The rate will be different if you are a contract, self-employed person versus working for an agency. It is more expensive for self-employed persons.

The penultimate consideration: Assess if the hiring agency is a big-name place that has a lot of prestige. If so, you may be surprised what doors this experience may open for you in the future and likewise, they may know this and use it to their advantage as the “honor” to work for them may be bigger than you realize at the moment (this is hard to gauge but I believe it is worth mentioning as it too can lower the going rate due to perceived prestige and because there are so many applicants).

Lastly, location can make a big difference. For example, the going rate in San Francisco versus some small town where the cost of living is very low may not be accounted for. To give them the benefit of the doubt, it may be that this new clinic is coming from a lower cost of living area and opening in your city, presumably a place with a higher cost of living or paying wage. Take this last bit cum grano salis (with a grain of salt) because most successful companies who are expanding to new cities do a detailed cost analysis including competitive pay scales before making the decision to open their doors.

If it turns out that this is a contract only job, and you are responsible for all of your taxes and have no benefits, let’s break this down:

  • If your group is 1 hour but you devote three hours of your day to it, right there it is $10 per hour. Most people will pay approximately 1/3 of your income to taxes, bringing their take home pay to $20 for three hours (approx. $6.70/ hour).


  • In addition to this, in order to hold yourself out as a professional, you pay dues to your professional membership and credentialing agencies, and your liability insurance. Let’s just ballpark these three figures to be approx. $500 per year which is roughly $10 per week. At this point your earnings are $10 for your three hours (approx. $3.30/hour) assuming this is the only work you have at the moment.


  • But really you are paying to go to this job because, you must upkeep your credentials during the year via continuing education credits which is roughly another $30 per week, maybe more (I came to this number by taking the average cost to attend an annual conference and associated travel expenses [$2,000] and dividing it by 52, the number of weeks per year.  Obviously, this number could be more or less depending on the proximity of the conference and what type of CEC’s are obtained. I personally think it is important to attend the AATA conference and do so whenever I can in order to keep abreast of the newest innovations in our field and for the collegial comradely).


  • In addition to maintaining your professional standards, you need gas and insurance for the car and money for its maintenance, and your own healthcare, and if you have to pay for childcare – well, forget it!  

Because art psychotherapists working as contract workers, or in private practice, must bear all the expenses for their business, they must charge well over $100 an hour in most parts of the country, which is comparable to other mental health professionals.

Now $30 an hour may be doable if you are working a 40-hour a week job with benefits. But as a consultant with this pay, you will have a similar plight as many adjunct professors.  It seems you may be better off working for or consulting with a company that respects your time and expertise. Or honor your unique qualities and hard earned skills by marketing your art psychotherapy services as a private practice clinician and educate others about your worth.

I know there is a lot in this post and even more that could be said.  Share your thoughts and comments below and be sure to sign up for our blog.

Need help negotiating a fair market price for your work, want to learn more about setting up a private practice, or just need some career support? Be sure to visit our workshop page or email: to set up consultation with Mark or Michelle Dean

© 2014, All rights reserved, The Center for Psyche & the Arts, LLC and Michelle L. Dean, MA, ATR-BC, LPC, CGP, HLM (DVATA)

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18 Responses to Art Psychotherapists: What is Your Worth?

Carol Carrino says: June 6, 2014 at 6:47 pm

Excellent, Michelle. I think it’s a real eye -opener. 1/3 rd of new businesses go under in 3 years. This kind of awareness may help prevent some of that & the disillusionment that goes along with not making it in a field you love. And if it helps us establish some recognition of the true costs we can support each others ( & literally, ourselves!) by not undercutting ourselves, others & our profession. Thanks!

adminwpa says: June 7, 2014 at 4:13 am

Thank you, Carol. I think much of this can also be said for the supervision process as well. I am always amazed when I learn of art therapy supervisors asking for $30 or less an hour, not because the supervisee does not have a need for a lower fee or that the supervisor would really love to help mentor new professionals, but it sets up a situation that supervisors must devalue their time, and in turn usually accept a loss for providing services while being fully responsible for the supervisee and her work, essentially placing the supervisor’s license or credential on the line and ultimately her future livelihood. It also sets up a bad precedent for the future value of the field. In many other mental health professions, the supervision hour is billed at the same rate as a clinical hour.

Sue Worthington says: June 9, 2014 at 5:22 am

Hi Carol and Michelle!

I started supervising an individual that had only a few hours a week of AT when she first graduated. I am supervising her for ATR and offered a low rate for her because she didn’t have any other income at the time. That was four years ago and I have only increased her rate once this past October (which was a mere insult to myself and still not where I would like to be for my services). She still is working only a handful of hours at this location, but does have another job. I enjoy mentoring this person, however I am conflicted with how to handle a substantial increase. I would like to be at double what I am asking her now.

Also, in the same vein, have you ever increased your fees in private practice with clients you have had for long term? I am going on two+ years with one client who is on a fixed income and have never increased. Again, this is a practically pro-bono case that I took when first starting in private practice. Any suggestions here??

Thank you! Great topic for discussion.

Gail Post, Ph.D. says: June 6, 2014 at 7:48 pm

Great break-down of the costs of doing therapy. Too many therapists devalue their worth by underselling themselves. This also goes for contracting with managed care plans that “determine” one’s worth. Many in other professions do not understand the hidden costs involved. Many clients may have the resources to afford therapy, but choose to place their financial resources elsewhere. How many times have clients indicated they could not afford therapy, but have taken numerous vacations, get their nails done, buy lots of clothes, go out to dinner on a regular basis, have the latest electronic stuff, etc.? Thanks for your article.

adminwpa says: June 7, 2014 at 4:03 am

Thank you, Gail. All excellent points about priorities. I find that some people and their families have baulked at the cost of treatment (i.e., both inpatient and ongoing outpatient treatment) for their loved ones who have a serious eating disorder or addiction. They think nothing of spending $100,000 or more for college, but without our health, we all have nothing.

Sara says: June 7, 2014 at 5:39 pm

Wonderful and clearly written article – thank you! I am also a self-employed art therapist and contract with different non-profits to offer art therapy groups. What you shared is exactly the way I have come to break down my own costs, time, and amount of value I need to place on the therapy I provide. I will definitely be sharing this article with other colleagues!

susanna ruebsaat says: June 9, 2014 at 10:11 pm

Thank you for the article. It is a deeply conflicted topic you have shed some light on. I have been guilty of undercharging but not quite as low as $50. It is a hard call sometimes especially with supervising students who have little money and are paying tuition. I am yet to resolve this dilemma. Perhaps it is charged area for all of us in terms of our “complexes” particularly about money, value and worth.Ego and survival are at stake here. And of course soul.

Katalin Gyokeny says: August 20, 2014 at 1:11 pm

There are no proper jobs for an AT in NYC. If by some miracle somebody wants to hire you, part time, without being an LCAT or at least ATR, they offer to pay $15-19 /h. If one gets an offer of $25/h it is considered lucky. If you go in as a contractor, they usually offer $50/h, of course they start out with $35/h and you have to negotiate.Most places have no idea what an AT is, and they consider you an arts and crafts/activities provider.
If you are lucky enough to have at least a part time position, you have to pay to be supervised, to add to the injury.Out of the very low salary, and you typically don’t get benefits, if you are part time, you have to pay for supervision and of course student loans and other expenses.
The whole business is ridiculous. Supervision should be free. Don’t be greedy, people, You got a salary.Let’s not exploit each other on top of being exploited by companies.

Gloria De Pietro says: September 29, 2014 at 9:41 am

What I see happening is art therapists are taking whatever jobs they can for whatever pay they can get. There needs to be a standard set across the Industry by the American Art therapy association. And yes contact time is very different than actual time spent in preparation, reports written and travel time etcetera.

Mary says: August 19, 2016 at 8:13 am

Hi Michelle–This is a bit off topic, and I hope you can answer it honestly. I am 52 years old. I have a Bachelors in Graphic Design and have been in the field for over 20 years. I am beyond burnt out on computer graphics. I was contemplating on getting into Art Therapy, as I feel helping people is my true calling and art and communications is where I should be. I live in Missouri, and looked at salary and job postings available, and it isnt looking very promising. I realize I would need to further my education with a masters degree, but don’t want to accumulate debt if it isnt paying. I am currently unemployed, but looking in my current field of marketing. With all of the new, young graduates also looking and landing the jobs, do you think it would be worth my while to persue an Art Therapy degree?

Michelle Dean says: September 12, 2016 at 6:34 am

Hi Mary, Thanks for your interest in art therapy. Pursuing a new career is a personal choice, so I cannot speak to all the pros and cons for you personally but I can offer some suggestions in terms of resources for your area. First, in terms of salary be sure to check what art therapists are making in your area. The National and local art therapy associations should have this information for you. Second, look around at different programs and see what the bottom dollar costs may be. For example, attending a school in Kansas may be less expensive than one on the East or West Coasts. Think about what your ultimate goal is, such as where do you want to work, who do you want to be working with, and who is doing this kind of work currently? This is the person I would encourage you to call to discuss what the market is like in his or her area, how they got to where they are, and what advice they may have for you. Mentoring is an excellent resource. Let me know if I can be of assistance and good luck with your decision-making process.

Sodubi Hughes says: February 9, 2019 at 7:21 pm

I really enjoyed reading different inputs and opinions about art therapists different experiences in the world where many do not understand what art therapy is.They have to be educated in a very simple fashion in the way that they can understand and digest.Be direct and explain the therapeutic and clinical aspects to justify your charges. Don’t sell yourself cheap.It is expensive to attend an art institution and attain masters degree in art therapy. It’s just like going to a medical school but the difference is the doctors make money
We should be able to make money if you are able to sell your expertise.Know your subject matter and be convincing siting your different experiences in group and your clinical application. Go make some money!


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