Job Description

Play Therapists work with children and young adolescents, suffering from a range of psychological difficulties and complex life experiences. Psychological difficulties include depression, anxiety, aggression 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, decrease internal conflict and increase resiliency, coping and emotional literacy. 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

Julie - A Play Therapist in the NHS
Simon - A Play Therapist in Social 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 in the assessment of and therapuetic interventions with children, from nursery age to adolescence. 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 children experiencing emotional distress. The emphasis is on the therapist communicating the core conditions of congruence, empathy and unconditional positive regard 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 takes place once a week, in sessions normally lasting 50 minutes;

  • Providing a regular and consistent setting and time where Play Therapy can commence;

  • Working in 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.

Work Conditions

  • Many Play Therapists work part-time, but for more than one organisation or undertake private practice activities. It is relatively rare for Play Therapists to work full-time for one organisation;

  • Opportunities for employment vary from region to region - the majority of Play Therapists work in the South East of England. Some areas of Britain have few qualified Play Therapists in post. 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 receive regular clinical supervision with a more experienced therapist who monitors, supports and increases 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.

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:

  • Psychology

  • Nursing

  • Social Work

  • Teaching

  • 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 Criminal Records Bureau.

Personal suitability is an essential pre-requisite to Play Therapy training. 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 faced with children in severe emotional pain and will require the insight, confidence and strength to enter into the in-depth Play Therapy process.

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. Play Therapy is usually a second career for those working in the fields of counselling, psychology, nursing, social work or teaching.

click here for further details on Play Therapy training

Continuing Professional Development

Qualified Play Therapists are required to participate and maintain continuing professional development (CPD). They are required to regularly attend conferences, courses and meetings in order to remain abreast of theoretical, clinical and research findings. 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

Training institutions also offer post-qualifying courses.

Typical Employers

The majority of Play Therapists work in the statutory sector: within social services teams, child mental health services, family centres and schools. Various independent and voluntary services also employ Play Therapists, such as the NSPCC, Barnardos and NCH.

Many Play Therapists are employed by more than one organisation and maintain a private practice alongside their statutory employment. A small percentage work in the training institutions as lecturers and clinical tutors.

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 pay for Play Therapists

Related Occupations

  • Child Psychotherapist

  • Social Worker

  • Counsellor/Psychotherapist

  • Art Therapist

  • Dramatherapist

  • Educational Psychologist

  • Speech and Language Therapist

  • Occupational Therapist

  • Primary School Teacher

Relevant Publications

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

Further Information

(page last updated Nov 2007)