Play is an important part of any child’s development, and when strife and trauma enter a child’s life, he or she cannot cope with it like adults do. A child usually expresses pain and anxiety through playing, by means of drawings, sand, clay or acting.
Play therapists work with children aged between three and eleven years of age, and occasionally also with adolescents who are suffering from a range of psychological difficulties and complex life experiences. Psychological difficulties include depression, anxiety, aggression, learning difficulties and ADHD. Difficult life experiences include abuse, grief, family breakdown, domestic violence and trauma.
A professionally trained play therapist helps a child to increase insight, to decrease internal conflict and to improve resiliency, coping and emotional literacy. Play therapists work closely with the child’s parents or carers throughout the Play Therapy intervention and occasionally also undertake parent-child relationship interventions.
They often work in multidisciplinary teams of psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and occupational therapists.
Play therapists are trained in the assessment and treatment of children, from nursery age to adolescence. They work predominantly with individual children and are skilled in developing symbolic communication and establishing in-depth therapeutic relationships. This mode of communication and type of relationship facilitates change and growth in children experiencing emotional distress. The various techniques used involve the use of puppets, sand, clay, pictures and drawings.
Many play therapists work part-time, generally for more than one organisation, or are inprivate practice. It is rare for play therapists to work full-time for one organisation.