The different uses of play to alleviate children’s problems 

Most of us understand that play is good for us – that it has a therapeutic value. It helps children of all ages, gender and cultures to learn, communicate and develop their personalities.  

Neuroscience research shows that more brain centres light up in response to metaphor than any other form of human communication forming new neural pathways. (Levin, F 1997 and Modell, A.H 1997). Symbolic/fantasy play with its use of metaphors provides new experiences that develops the brain/mind.  

Similarly creative arts therapies help in the same way. They are also used to unlock children's potential and make sense of their life experiences. The child can express their feelings without having to use words.  

Play & Play Work - All children should be encouraged to play frequently and spontaneously purely for their enjoyment with no other objective. Play work may also be used in nurseries, play schemes or primary schools to help children to learn or as in a play scheme to provide a safe environment for a child when the parent and/or carer/s are absent. As a bonus there will be a therapeutic or child development benefit.  Play Workers are not Play Therapists.  

Therapeutic Play improves the emotional well-being/emotional literacy of the child. It may be used to alleviate a mild, one off emotional, behaviour or psychological problem that is preventing the child from functioning normally. Therapeutic play is often used to prevent a minor problem becoming worse. Practitioners of therapeutic play may be other professionals such as teaching staff, nurses, social workers, care workers etc. who have received adequate training, such as a Certificate in Therapeutic Play Skills accredited by Play Therapy UK. They also need to receive regular clinical supervision and use clinical governance procedures to manage the quality of their work.

Filial Play uses techniques such as baby massage as well as play to assist infants, normally under the age of 3, in their mental and emotional development which for some reason is impaired. In some cases the filial therapist may work with the parent and/or carer/s as well as with the child. Its objective is to prevent negative infant experiences becoming deeper seated emotional problems later in life. Therapy may extend beyond the age of 3 and then may become family therapy. Therapeutic play should be an important part of family therapy. PTUK encourages parents to provide quality time for their children using play but does not approve of parents using therapeutic methods with their own or relatives' children.  

Play Therapy uses a variety of play and creative arts methods - the Play Therapy Tool Kit - to address chronic, mild and moderate psychological and emotional conditions in children that are causing behavioural problems. The Play Therapist forms a short to medium term therapeutic relationship and often works with the child’s peers, siblings, family, school etc. as well. A Play Therapist is required to have successfully completed a post-graduate Diploma level course such as one accredited by Play Therapy UK as well as receiving regular clinical supervision and using clinical governance procedures to manage the quality of their work.  

Child psychotherapy, clinical psychology and psychiatry address more severe mental health and personality problems. Practitioners in these fields may use therapeutic play in addition to talking therapies and possibly, in the case of psychiatry, medication.  Support may be provided by a Play Therapist working in a multi-agency team.  

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