How does therapeutic play work?
Therapeutic play, including play therapy, is a well
established discipline based upon a number of psychological theories. Research, both qualitative and quantitative
shows that it is highly effective in many cases. Recent research by PTUK
suggests that 75% of the children referred will show a positive change.
A safe, confidential and caring environment is created which
allows the child to play with as few limits as possible but as many as
necessary (for safety). This allows
healing to occur on many levels following our natural inner trend towards
health. Play and creativity operate on
impulses from outside our awareness - the unconscious. No medication is used.
The therapist may reflect back to the child observations of
what has happened during the session if this is felt to be appropriate.
Above all the child is given Special Time. So often in modern life we never seem to have
enough time to spend with our children - just playing, just being there for
them. The child is given strategies to cope with difficulties they face in life
and which they themselves cannot change.
It provides a more positive view of their future life. Sessions may last
from typically 30 to 45 minutes. They may be with individual or groups of
A variety of techniques - the Play Therapy Toolkit are
used according to the child’s wishes and the skills of the therapist. These may include:
Puppets & Masks
Painting & Drawing
Clay, Plasticine & Playdough
The first recorded use of therapeutic play goes back to 1919
Introduction to Play Therapy). It is informed by a number of
psychological theories. Probably the most important contributions to modern
practice are the work of Virginia Axline and Violet
Oaklander. Two major approaches are Non-directive play therapy and Directive
play therapy. A skilled practitioner will adopt a mix of both approaches
according to circumstances.
Play Therapy UK has pioneered the development and use of a
competency framework, as the foundation of a Profession Structure Model, to
improve the understanding of exactly what a practitioner of therapeutic play
A list of competencies
for Play Therapists provides further information.
and papers explain how play works as a therapy.