Play Therapists work with children and young adolescents, suffering from a range of psychological difficulties and complex life experiences – including for example depression, anxiety, ADHD, experiences of abuse, grief, family breakdown, domestic violence and trauma. A professionally trained Play Therapist works to help a child to gain insight and understanding of their experiences, increasing emotional resilience and developing coping strategies while decreasing problematic behaviours and internalized conflicts. Play Therapists work closely with the child’s parents/carers throughout the Play Therapy intervention and occasionally undertake parent-child relationship interventions.
Career Case Studies:
these case studies will help you understand the range of contexts within which play therapy is currently practiced in the UK.
Julie – A Play Therapist in the NHS
Simon – A Play Therapist in Social Care Services
Sonnhild – A Play Therapist in Education
Kath – An Independent Play Therapist
Mary – a Play Therapist in an Assessment and Treatment Facility
Typical Work Activities
Play Therapists are trained to undertake a range of therapeutic tasks with children of all ages, ranging from nursery age through to adolescence. Some play therapists also work with adults. Play therapists will carry our therapeutic interventions based on a period of assessment with the child and their carers and will review their intervention regularly with all those involved. They work predominantly with individual children but many also offer joint work involving parents/carers or siblings and some have experience of working with groups. They 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 individuals experiencing emotional distress. The emphasis is on the therapist communicating the core conditions of genuineness, empathy and unconditional acceptance within the therapeutic relationship. Typical work activities include:
• Assessing the emotional needs of children in consultation with other professionals in schools, hospitals, clinics, Social Service teams and courts;
• Providing treatment of children as individuals and in groups. Therapy usually takes place once a week, in sessions normally lasting 50 minutes;
• Providing a regular and consistent setting and time where Play Therapy can take place;
• Working within a multi-disciplinary team of psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and/or occupational therapists;
• Clinically supervising other Play Therapists;
• Offering consultation and advice to professionals in the community.
Training Entry Requirements
An Honours degree in a relevant subject, such as the ones listed below, is an essential pre-requisite as the training is offered at postgraduate level:
• Social Work
• Occupational Therapy
Applicants would normally have completed a minimum of two years’ work with children of varying ages and families in a voluntary or professional capacity. All applicants would also need to be in good physical and mental health and undergo a check through the Disclosure & Barring Service.
Personal suitability is an essential pre-requisite to Play Therapy training. Most successful applicants have a background that includes some study of psychology and work with children in emotional distress within health, social or educational services. Maturity and relevant life experience are essential, as prospective Play Therapists need to be sensitive, open and motivated to help children and families in intense emotional distress. Play Therapists are often faced with children in severe emotional pain and will require insight, confidence and emotional strength to develop and maintain the in-depth Play Therapy process. Play Therapists are expected to undertake their own personal therapeutic process during their professional training to deepen their self-awareness and support their emotional resilience in future practice. Clinical supervisions further supports this process.
click here for further details on Play Therapy training
Continuing Professional Development
Qualified Play Therapists are expected to participate in and maintain continuing professional development (CPD). They can demonstrate CPD through a range of activities including attendance at national conferences, attending local courses and meetings in order to remain abreast of theoretical, clinical and research findings, engaging in academic writing or delivering training to others.. The British Association of Play Therapists (BAPT) organise an annual national Play Therapy conference and advertise relevant short courses in the PLAY THERAPY magazine and on the website members’ area. BAPT Accredited Training institutions also offer post-qualifying courses.
Employment opportunities & working practices:
The opportunities for employment as a play therapist continue to develop rapidly.Some Play Therapists work within a range of statutory , government funded or voluntary and independent organizations – for example, within the NHS, in hospitals, hospices or community contexts, within Child and Adolescent Mental health services, within social work and other social services teams, within fostering and adoption services, schools and children’s centres. A number are employed directly by children’s charities and private children’s residential homes. Many Play Therapists also work independently in private practice or are commissioned by agencies to provide services for specific groups of children. A small number of play therapists in the UK work as academics, teachers and clinical supervisors..
• Play therapists may work full or part time but it is increasingly common for agencies to include full time play therapy posts within their provision.
• Opportunities for employment vary from region to region but have grown steadily during the last 20 years – there are play therapists practicing in many major cities within the UK and in many urban and rural areas – you can search for a play therapist through your ‘ Find a Therapist’ section of this website. BAPT qualified play therapists practice in all areas of the United Kingdom. Opportunities for work tend to be in towns and cities and there is a very high proportion of female practitioners;
• Play Therapists tend to work in multi-disciplinary teams and a strong, supportive professional network is an advantage for coping with the emotionally demanding work;
• Play Therapists are expected to engage in regular clinical supervision with a more experienced therapist who monitors, supports and seeks to enhance the Play Therapist’s awareness of the Play Therapy process.
• Travel within a working day is frequent. Some Play Therapists work for several employers and may travel between them during the week. Therapists in Private practice may need to charge for travel expenses incurred for specifically commissioned pieces of work.
Sources of Vacancies
• PLAY THERAPY website
• The Guardian (Wednesdays)
• The Times Educational Supplement (TES)
• Community Care
• Therapy Today
After Play Therapists register with the British Association of Play Therapists, vacancies and career opportunities are good. The Play Therapy profession is rapidly developing across Britain.
Pay and benefits for Play Therapists
click here for details of current payscales for Play Therapists
• Child Psychotherapist
• Social Worker
• Art Therapist
• Educational Psychologist
• Speech and Language Therapist
• Occupational Therapist
• Primary School Teacher
PLAY THERAPY Magazine, The British Association of Play Therapists (BAPT), Quarterly.
British Journal of Play Therapy, The British Association of Play Therapists (BAPT), Annually.
The Guide to Play Therapy, The British Association of Play Therapists (BAPT), 2002, rolling revisions made since 2006
• Play Therapy Training
• Play Therapy Short Courses
• Contact BAPT
• How to join BAPT
• Ethical Basis for Good Practice in Play Therapy
• Play Therapy Core Competencies
• BAPT Publications
(page last updated September 2014)