Play therapists help children to make sense of difficult
life experiences, past or present, through the symbolic
communication of play. Play is a child's natural way of
communicating and can help children to explore various
issues that they might find difficult to express in other
Play therapy work is usually with children aged between 3 and 11, sometimes with adolescents, and mainly on a one-to-one basis with sessions lasting about an hour. Some play therapists also work with groups of children.
Approaches and techniques vary from child-centred (also known as ‘non-directive’) to 'focussed' or 'directive'. Play therapists use toys such as puppets, cars and dolls, as well as play materials like paints, crayons, sand and water.
Therapists keep written records of sessions with children. They are responsible for writing letters and reports, as well as liaising with parents and other professionals. Sometimes they may have to attend court.
Play therapy has developed into a career in its own right, but it is also a method of working with children that is used in other professions such as social work, nursing or child mental health.
Many play therapists work part-time. Play therapy
sessions are usually held on weekdays, and some play
therapists work after school, up to about 6.30pm.
They work indoors, sometimes in a specially equipped playroom, but often in children's own homes or schools. A driving licence is useful.
To be a play therapist you should:
Play therapists are employed by social services
departments, health services, education and voluntary
agencies. This is a rapidly expanding career, with most
jobs in large towns and cities.
There are very few full-time posts. Play therapists usually work on a part-time or freelance basis and may combine play therapy with another part-time profession. It is common for a play therapist to be employed by more than one organisation and have a private practice alongside this employment.
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