Postgraduate Queries: I'd like to qualify as an art therapist; can I do my PhD long-distance from Italy?

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Artistic aid

Artistic aid

Q. I have a BA in theatre design and have had a successful career in the theatre. But recently I've become interested in art therapy and want to go back to university to take a postgraduate degree. I need to stay in London to be near my family and ideally I'd like to study part-time. Where could I go, how much would it cost and how would I qualify for the course?

A. Art therapy - combining art and counselling skills to treat people with emotional difficulties - has been around for decades. But it was only in 1997 that it became a profession in its own right, and as yet there are not yet enough courses to keep up with demand. Of the six masters available in the UK there is only one in London, at Goldsmiths College. Its MA in art psychotherapy can be studied part-time for three years, at a cost of £1,470 a year. But you also need to undertake weekly personal therapy sessions during the course, which means paying £25 to £40 per session.

Your design background is acceptable, but you also need at least one year's full-time (or the equivalent in part-time hours) relevant work experience. This can be paid or voluntary, and must involve working in direct contact with the sort of clients you will eventually encounter - people undergoing emotional or psychological stress or crisis. So, if you don't have such experience, then get it before you even think of applying - try approaching local day centres, special schools and psychiatric hospitals.

In the meantime, you could take a part-time art therapy foundation to help you decide whether the MA is for you, or an introductory course run by The British Association of Art Therapists (

Italian landscapes

Q. I am British but have lived in Italy for the last 30 years. I should graduate this year with a good degree in international studies and have applied to do a Masters in holistic science, but what I really want to do is the PhD that I never took when I was young. I don't want to spend long periods away from home, although I am happy to travel frequently during the year. The research area I was thinking about is the use of artwork as documents for recording changing landscapes. I would like to base my research locally. Would this be possible given that I want to work with a UK university, not an Italian one? How should I go about my search? Should I write directly to a professor of my choosing and ask to be admitted as a PhD student?

A. Basically, you have two options. Either you can do a European degree (run jointly between a UK and an Italian university), or a distance one. As you don't want to work with an Italian university then the latter seems the best option.

It is the normal procedure to contact a professor directly, once you have found one working within your discipline. Yours sounds quite a specialist field, so first find out which academics are researching in your area and whether they supervise PhD students. Then find out if the university supports distance PhD students.

Also, try to talk to PhD students in the same department, as well as other distance PhD students. It can be a hard route to follow, compared to a campus-based PhD. If PhD students suffer loneliness, this can be far worse at a distance. Read the new Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) code of practice to see the sort of support you should be getting from the supervisory team and university - and remember that having a team will mean you have more than one person to talk to.

Your choice of topic still sounds vague, so firm it up before having even an informal discussion with a potential tutor. You'll then have to come up with a coherent proposal for some original research.

And once you've decided where you want to go, you might be interested in the results of a recent internet poll asking students what they would choose to wear to a PhD interview. Ten per cent of respondents said they'd wear pyjamas.

Thanks to: Terry Molloy, admissions tutor at Goldsmiths; Janet Metcalfe, director of the UK GRAD Programme; Gill Sharp, careers consultant at Graduate Prospects