Deciding what to do if a child has an emotional or behaviour problem

The following guidelines may help you to decide what to do if you know a child or children with emotional, behaviour or mental health problems.

Parent or Carer
Slight or Mild

Is the child under 3?


Between 4 and 13?

Consider filial play


Consider therapeutic play, play therapy or filial play

Moderate or a number of mild problems

Over 3 years?

Over 14 years?

Consider play therapy

Consider counselling – talking therapy

Severe Between 3 and 14?

See your doctor for a referral to a child psychotherapist etc.
If you work with children

Do you wish to acquire therapeutic play skills or become a play therapist?

Career Development in Therapeutic Play

Introduction – The Need for Practitioners of Therapeutic Play
PTUK estimates that there is a latent need in the UK for at least 10000 practitioners using therapeutic play, creative arts and play therapy skills. There are probably less than 1000 therapists at present with the level of expertise that is required so there are plenty of potential career opportunities.

We encourage new entrants to the profession and professionals with existing experience of working therapeutically with adults or others who have experience of working with children. PTUK has developed a Career Development Map (in 2 parts) and a four stage training model as a part of the Profession Structure Model. These provide considerable flexibility in terms of previous career background and aspirations to cater for as many people as possible.

Career Advisory Service

PTUK offers careers advice for anyone interested in developing their career using therapeutic play skills or in becoming a Certified Play Therapist.

New Entrants
School leavers who are interested in making a career in this field are advised to first undertake a degree course with some relevance such as childhood studies, psychology or social sciences ideally with an option involving children’s development. They should then arrange to attend a stage 1 course in order to decide if they wish to proceed to a post graduate Certificate, Diploma or MA programme accredited by PTUK.

Mature Entrants
Mature entrants who have considerable experience of working with children but no relevant formal qualifications or a first level degree are also welcomed into the profession via perhaps stage 1 foundation or conversion courses.

Because circumstances vary considerably it is best to seek advice using PTUK’s free career advisory service.

Arts, drama, music, movement and other creative arts therapists
The profession badly needs your experience adapted to working with children. A Play Therapist requires a range of tools so that you will also be able to add other ways of working creatively to your existing skills.

You may be able to commence your play therapy training at Diploma stage according to your experience and aspirations.

Counsellors, psychotherapists, clinical psychologists and psychiatrists
Play therapy offers you an opportunity to develop non talking therapy skills which you will be able to use with adults as well as children. Therapeutic play skills will also be useful systemically in, for example, working with families where children are an important issue.

You may be able to commence your play therapy training at Diploma stage according to your experience and aspirations.

PTUK also arranges specially designed programmes for local groups, counselling services and for in-house training.

Experienced health professionals
Play therapy offers health professionals such as doctors, nurses and occupational therapists an opportunity to alleviate children’s emotional, behaviour and mental health problems. Therapeutic play skills will also be useful systemically in, for example, working with families where the children’s conditions are an important issue.

Education Professionals
Including Teachers, SENCOS and Educational Psychologists are increasingly using therapeutic play skills to work on behaviour problems as well as alleviating emotional conditions that prevent children reaching their full academic potential. Therapeutic play enables the development of the holistic child and support the emotional literacy component of the curriculum.

Teaching and Learning Assistants may use therapeutic play skills to enhance their career opportunities and integrate play therapy into the school.

PTUK also arranges specially designed programmes for local clusters of schools.

Care and Social Services Professionals
Professionals may use play therapy to assist children in transition and to support children who have suffered abuse, trauma, attachment problems and loss. Play therapy is valuable for children on the autistic spectrum and with other physical/developmental disabilities.

Mapping PTUK’s Model to Others
There is often confusion about educational levels in the UK. Two other frameworks in widespread use are the University and QCA models. See table showing PTUK’s view on approximate correspondence and matching between stages and levels.