What is play therapy?
Play Therapy is a model of therapy which enables children to explore their feelings, to express themselves and to make sense of their life experiences. Play Therapy differs from regular play, in that the therapist helps the child to address and resolve their own problems. Playing is how children learn about their world and it is essential for healthy development. It provides the child with a means of communication that is natural to him/her. In play therapy, the child is offered a range of play equipment and art materials which enables him/her to communicate his / her thoughts and feelings not only in words, which many find difficult, but also through play and art work.
Children who have suffered trauma, neglect and other difficult life experiences can find it extremely hard to find the words to talk about what has happened. The play therapist has no expectation that the child will have to ‘talk’ to them and allows the child the freedom to express him/herself in a safe and trusting environment in a way which helps him/her to feel supported, accepted and valued.
Play therapy sessions may be non-directive, directive or a combination of both. In non-directive play therapy the child always chooses what s/he wishes to play with and leads the play. In directive sessions, the therapist offers the child the opportunity to work with a specific media, for example, sand tray, art materials, small world figures, sensory play materials. The latter approach can only happen when a relationship has been established with the play therapist and the child feels safe and secure. This can take a long time.
Who is a play therapist?
A play therapist is a professional who has undertaken training at a postgraduate level. Play therapists receive in depth training about child development, attachment theory and advanced play therapy skills to Masters Level.
In order to become a PTUK Certified Play Therapist a minimum of 200 hours of supervised clinical work is required whilst in training.
Play therapists usually have an established history of working with children and their families.
Play therapists can be employed by child and mental health services (CAMHS), hospitals, Virtual School Officers, social care, family support providers and schools. They also undertake private referrals where appropriate.
Play therapists must undertake regular clinical supervision when working therapeutically with clients. (see PTUK clinical supervision link)
Who is play therapy for?
Our greatest natural resource is the minds of our children, but 20% of children in the UK have an emotional, behavioural or mental health problem.
Play Therapy is an effective intervention for children who:
- Are not realising their full potential - academically, or socially
- Have nightmares or disturbed sleep
- Are at risk of being/ are excluded from school
- Have suffered trauma
- Have suffered emotional, physical or sexual abuse
- Are adopted or fostered or in the process of being
- Suffer because of separated/divorced parents
- Suffer from anxiety, stress or phobias
- Have suffered a loss or bereavement of any kind
- Are withdrawn or continually unhappy
- Are ill, disabled, or autistic
- Find it difficult to make friends
- Quarrel frequently with peers or siblings
- Bully others or are bullied themselves
- Display inappropriate behaviour
- Don’t play
Play Therapy can offer children who have suffered one or more of the above, a space in which the feelings generated by their experiences can be expressed and contained. It must be recognized, however, that Play Therapy cannot change what has happened to a child, but it can help to promote resilience and enable the child the opportunity to feel better about themselves.