The practice of art therapy was first developed within psychiatric hospitals. In the early 19th century Philippe Pinel, the founder of psychiatry in France, proposed artistic activities in the programme of recovery from mental ill health. Since then, many different attempts were made to help mentally ill patients, including theatre performances and concerts in asylums and hospitals. At that time, it was generally believed that patients should receive treatment that had a social purpose, which was characterized by a variety of different collective activities like music. This idea was developed after World War One, through socio-therapy, crafts production and occupational therapy (with self-expression). Over the twentieth century an ever-increasing number of experiments in arts therapies, based on a wide range of different theories, have been conducted by artists, therapists and the caring professions. Art therapy (plastic art) as a treatment for mental illness was given greater prominence in the 1950s through the work of Volmat and the emphasis by the Centre d’étude de l’expression (Centre for study of expression) on the four functions of psychotherapy with mediations, clinical research, teaching and documentation. Today, it is common for hospital psychiatric departments to develop plastic art productions (painting, drawing) and many exhibitions are organized each year. Regarding dance therapy, there have been two main developments, one through a classical approach of dance, and a second with a more psychological and psychoanalytic orientation, through primitive expression (H.Duplan, F. Schott-Billman). But there are also corporal expression workshops, which are between psychomotor or dance/occupational activity and therapy. Music therapy has been developed in psychiatric hospitals since about 1930. In the 1970s and 1980s research focused essentially on the use of music therapy in relaxation and analgesia for dental care, childbirth and mostly psychotherapy. Over recent decades, new approaches to understanding the place and function of music have brought about a turning point in music therapy research with applications in psycho-pedagogy, social situations, elderly people and disability having undergone major developments in recent years. With regards to dramatherapy the emphasis in France on psychodrama has inhibited any other form of therapeutic theatre activity. It is only recently, with the harmonization of this activity with the European area of arts therapies, dramatherapy emerged in its own right.


The Master Degree in Arts Therapies is a professional, national title, regulated by the Minister of Education and Universities. Since 2011 we have had four professional masters’ degrees: Master in Music Therapy, Master in Dance Therapy, Master in Dramatherapy and Master in Plastic Arts Therapy. There is also an option for research, leading to the qualification of doctorate in art therapy, which was created in 2013. In May 2014 the Minister of the Universities decided to change the title of this Master which is now Master professional and research Sorbonne Paris Cité in Art Creation, speciality Arts Therapies with four orientations: music therapy, dramatherapy, dance therapy and plastic arts therapy. This is to reinforce the role of arts in arts therapy to distinguish the arts therapies from the psychotherapies. The programme itself has remained relatively unchanged. A doctorate program for arts therapies was established in 2013. Historically the first organized training was in music therapy in Paris in 1972. In the 1980s some universities delivered University Diplomas in Art Therapy (or music therapy, arts therapies, artistic mediations). Since 2008 the University Paris Descartes has organized a Masters Degree in Arts Therapies. The initial two years were part of UPD’s Educational Sciences Department. In 2011 the University Sorbonne Paris Cité created a department for the arts therapies with a masters’ degree, which gives a professional masters in an arts therapies specialization (music therapy, dancetherapy, plastic arts therapy, drama therapy) with an option for students interested in undertaking research. This option opens the possibility for a doctorate in arts therapies. Since the 1980s university diplomas in arts therapies (music therapy, artistic mediations etc) have been developed. About ten of these diplomas are generally organized by the faculties of medicine and psychology: universities of Montpellier, Tours, Grenoble, Toulouse, Nantes etc. The principal orientation developed in these trainings is psychoanalytic.


In France arts therapy is not recognized as a profession and is not regulated. However, the French Federation of Art Therapy (FFAT) is responsible for monitoring the four disciplines. Arts therapists are employed in hospitals and other institutions on the basis of their initial professional qualification if they have one (e.g., doctor, nurse, psychologist, specialized teacher, artist) or as artist intervening in hospital, animator, etc. At present, there is no way to prevent untrained people from calling themselves arts therapists. However, the new national Professional Master of Arts Therapies, created in 2011, will be a good basis for the creation of a professional status. Professional associations Among the various national associations existing in this field, the Societé Francaise de Psychopathologie de L’expression (French Society of Psychopathology of Expression) is the largest. It deals with theatre as well as poetry, music, painting, film and dance, even if this society has been created in a medical context in which the interest in art productions was predominant. The French Federation of Music Therapy works to promote the status of music therapists. The federation proposed a professional registration. Music Therapy, from the beginning, has been the most organised modality of arts therapies in France. More information on the Professional Associations can be found at:

  1. The French Association of Music Therapy: https://www.afm-musicotherapie.org/
  2. The French Federation of Art Therapy: www.ffat-federation.org


Music therapy research is advanced in France, and there is a focus on working with premature babies. On the other hand, the Sainte Anne – Centre de L’Etude de L’Expression has been training art therapists since 1954. Their mission is to teach art therapy and pursue research. Whereas, research in dramatherapy is mostly qualitative in nature.