What is play therapy

What is Play Therapy?

BAPT defines Play Therapy as:

Play Therapy is the dynamic process between child and Play Therapist in which the child explores at his or her own pace and with his or her own agenda those issues, past and current, conscious and unconscious, that are effecting the child’s life in the present. The child’s inner resources are enabled by the therapeutic alliance to bring about growth and change. Play Therapy is child-centred, in which play is the primary medium and speech is the secondary medium.

Play Therapy encompasses many approaches but the foundation of all approaches is child-centred.

Play is children’s primary form of communication.  Children tell us about their inner world through play long before they are able to link words to their experiences through language. Through play, children can experiment with, process and master different skills and experiences.  They form a sense of who they are, whilst learning to understand that other people can be different from them.  Relationship skills, such as being able to trust, respect, empathise, share and co-operate with people, can be developed through play.

Play Therapy, therefore, is a form of counselling for children that builds on this developmentally appropriate form of communication through play.  It enables children to explore difficult experiences in a safe environment.  The trust, acceptance, boundaries, modelling and reflectiveness of a BAPT Registered Play Therapist® working alongside a child playing can enable them to: 

  • Feel more confident in expressing their thoughts and feelings
  • Develop their emotional vocabulary by accessing the language the Play Therapist relates to their experiences
  • Develop more socially appropriate behaviour
  • Improve their self-image and self-esteem
  • Improve concentration and organisation
  • Become more confident and creative in their play
child and playtherapist with baby doll

 What is a BAPT Registered Play Therapist®

A BAPT Registered Play Therapist® is a qualified mental health professional who has had intensive university and clinical training accredited by the British Association of Play Therapists (BAPT). Most BAPT Registered Play Therapists® are graduates who have already trained to work with children.  For example, they may already be qualified as social workers, teachers, nursery nurses, teaching assistants and psychologists.

A BAPT Registered Play Therapist® must have a clear knowledge of the following: 

  • Child-centred Play Therapy
  • Child development
  • The developmental process and functions of play
  • Developmental psycho-pathology, including attachment theory, mental health, social and emotional wellbeing, disability and trauma
  • Ecological, systems and social constructionist theories of society
  • Integrative Play Therapy methods
  • Working with parents and carers
  • Relevant legislation and policy
  • Anti-discriminatory practice
  • Contemporary research and practice

To be a full member of BAPT a Play Therapist will have:

Child drawing wheelchair

How can Play Therapy Help?

Play Therapy can be effective to support people of all ages.  A Play Therapist will complete an assessment to decide if Play Therapy is right for someone.  Most commonly, Play Therapy is used with children, so we will refer to child/children in this document for simplicity.  Play Therapy has been proven to be effective in addressing a range of difficulties, including those related to:

  • Adoption and Fostering
  • Attachment and Trauma
  • Abuse
  • Anxiety
  • Bereavement
  • Bullying
  • Emotional and Behavioural Regulation Difficulties
  • Family Breakdown
  • Friendship Difficulties
  • Illness
  • Low Self-esteem
  • Nightmares
  • Physical Regulation Difficulties, i.e., Sleeping, Eating and Toileting
  • Social Withdrawal 

For more information you can read Evidence-based Research on Play Therapy.

We offer information for parents, carers, children and professionals and additional information which can be found on our BAPT Play Therapy resources page.

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Finding a BAPT Registered Therapist®

If you feel that a child you know may benefit from Play Therapy, or you are interested in building connections with Play Therapists in your local area, please visit:

Find A Play Therapist