Nov 21, 2023

What is Play Therapy?

Celine Stonex (Guest Play Therapist)
Celine Stonex (Guest Play Therapist)
What is Play Therapy?

Play therapy is a therapeutic approach primarily used to help children aged 2 to 14 explore their lives and freely express repressed thoughts and emotions through play.

Children, unlike adults, often find it challenging to articulate their experiences verbally. As a result, talking therapies may not be the most effective approach for this age group. Therefore, play therapy uses the child’s language of play to communicate and understand the child’s world.

Play therapists are highly trained in child development, attachment theory, mental health, disability and trauma and social and emotional wellbeing. This allows therapists to assess and understand key play themes so that they can support each child.

The therapist provides a safe and accepting environment where the child is free to express themselves without fear of judgement. Therapists use a range of creative equipment and toys and the client’s well-being is always central to the work itself!

Play therapy supports children with a wide range of needs such as:

  • Anxiety or depression

  • Loss and separation

  • Attachment disorders

  • Processing trauma

  • Special Educational Needs such as ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

  • Processing difficult emotions

  • Bullying or low self-esteem

  • Problem solving

  • Difficulties with social integration

  • Academic challenges

  • Emotional regulation

Overall, play therapy respects the child's pace and allows them to heal, grow, and learn in a supportive environment that recognises play as an essential part of their language and learning.

Play Therapist with Family

An example of play therapy with a 4-year-old boy (for the purpose of confidentiality, the name of the child have been changed)

Charlie was referred to play therapy as parents felt that he was struggling with his emotions. Charlie had recently started bed wetting, was finding it difficult to separate from his parents at nursery, and once a good sleeper, was now taking hours to get to sleep and was up most of the night. Parents were very concerned and worried as he was also becoming quick to anger and took a very long time to calm down. Charlie then started play therapy and alongside this, parents were supported by the therapist with their own mental health as well as thinking about what might be going on for Charlie.

Often, as children struggle to express themselves verbally, they will use different behaviours as a way of communicating their unrest. It transpired that there had been a lot of change at home:

They had recently moved houses and 6 months ago, they had welcomed a new baby into the family. Charlie’s grandmother, who he had a really close relationship with, had moved away so he did not have regular contact with her anymore.

Through 12 one-to-one sessions with the play therapist, in which Charlie was able to feel safe and comfortable to engage in meaningful play, he was able to work through some of his more difficult feelings.

  • The play therapist held a consultation, two review meetings and an ending meeting to help parents at home as well as give helpful suggestions to his nursery school.

  • At the end of the sessions, Charlie was no longer waking up at night and wetting the bed. He was getting to sleep quicker and when he did become upset and angry, parents felt much better able to help support him throughout those difficult moments.

Woman on phone call with child

Seeking support can feel scary!

It’s always hard to know when your child might need a little extra support and sometimes it can feel really difficult to seek that out. Some parents may not know where to go or even worry about how their child’s presentation reflects on them. Our world is met with so many daily challenges, and sometimes these can have a profound impact on our children. As parents, you cannot always be expected to shield your child from the world as there are always so many external factors that are out of our hands! Play therapists will often work with children and families alike, to provide different perspectives and to support the system around the child. Although the sessions are confidential, play therapists will endeavour to be emotionally available adults for parents as well. If you are looking for a qualified and registered play therapist, please do not hesitate to look on the official British Association of Play Therapist’s website:


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