Play Art Create

What is the difference between ordinary play and Play Therapy?

There is a fundamental difference between Play Therapy and child’s play in another situation.

Play is vital for a healthy child’s development. Play between parent and child provides a sense of joy, security and attachment.

Play Therapy is conducted by a trained therapist who provides selected play materials and allow the child to fully express and explore self (feelings, thoughts, experiences and behaviours) through play. The therapist helps children better process their experiences and develop more effective strategies for managing their world.

The therapeutic relationship between the therapist and the child provides the opportunity for healing and repair. This transforms the play to Play Therapy.

The therapist provides a ‘free and safe’ space which offers the opportunity for the child to express their conscious and unconscious thoughts, fears, wounds, wishes etc., which helps them to process and resolve “stuck thoughts and feelings”.

Play therapy is based on the belief that children have the internal drive to wellness.


The role of a Play Therapist is to facilitate this process by appropriate response and a good therapeutic relationship.

Evidence that Play Therapy works based on neuroscience findings:

​How does Play Therapy work?

Play therapy builds new neural pathways by releasing chemicals in the brain

(Sunderland M. 2017) 

...hence allowing positive changes in the brain.

The latest findings, based on over 10 000 pre- and post-therapy measures show that between 74% and 83% of children receiving play therapy from PTUK members show a positive change.

How effective is Play Therapy?

UK Society for Play and Creative Arts Therapies (P.T.U.K. )

In Play therapy children learn:

  • to respect themselves

  • that their feelings are acceptable

  • to express their feelings responsibly

  • assume responsibility for themselves

  • to be creative and resourceful in confronting problems

  • self-control and self-direction

  • to accept themselves gradually

  • make choices and be responsible for their choices

The benefits of Play Therapy

Child-centred Play Therapy uses a holistic, integrative approach and works with different media. Each medium has its own specific effects and powers and enables the child to communicate through it in different ways.

  • Storytelling

  • Creative Visualisation

  • Clay

  • Art

  • Puppets

  • Drama

  • Music

  • Dance & Movement

  • Sand Play

The Play Therapy tool-kit

Every child is unique and will respond differently. The length of time varies and depends on the presenting issue and level of family support. Some children will respond well to a short-term intervention – for example up to 12 sessions. Children who have experienced trauma or abuse or their problems are complicated might need 20 or more sessions.

The sessions are usually once a week and consistency – attending on the same day, at the same time and place - is crucial for building the trust in the therapist. (Unplanned missed sessions might disrupt the process.)

How long does Play Therapy take?

How to prepare your child

Tell your child they are going to meet someone who works and plays with children. Let them know the person’s name. Describe the environment and let them know you will bring them to meet that person. Support your child by telling them you would like them to feel better or happier. It is better to avoid the word therapy and instead use the phrase ‘Special Time’ when talking about the sessions.

Parent/family role

Sessions with parents are important opportunities to keep the therapist informed about the changes in child’s functioning. The therapist can offer suggestions about parenting techniques and also inform parents about the child’s progress. Parents know their child best and have a lot of ideas. I believe that effective treatment requires team work.


To help a child to feel safe and trust the therapist, the details of the sessions can’t be discussed with anyone. The therapist will instead communicate her understanding of the child’s psychological needs or conflicts. Parents should refrain from asking too many questions after the sessions.

Parent involvement

Play Therapy is suitable for children from age 2 years old and there is no upper age limit.

It can be used to treat children with several kinds of problems, for example:

  • behavioural problems, anger, ADHD

  • attachment issues

  • developmental and educational delays

  • communication difficulties, low self esteem

  • emotional issues, anxiety, depression

  • abuse, neglect, bullying

  • trauma, nightmares

  • bereavement, loss, parental separation

  • poor social skills, Autistic spectrum

​Who is Play Therapy for?

play therapy

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