WHAT IS PLAY THERAPY?

...and how does it differ from talking therapies?

Play therapy is a play-based method for helping children and adolescents with behavioural and emotional problems to help themselves. Unlike adult therapies where the focus is on talking, play therapy enables children to explore issues creatively using play, their natural form of communication. Adults can also benefit from play therapy which is creative and imaginative rather than cognitive, making it a great tool for building resilience and coping with and resolving difficulties. Play therapy is play with a therapeutic objective such as helping children undergoing change (due to class transition, a new sibling or family separation) to make better behavioural choices, improve self-esteem or increase confidence. Using a combination of non-directive and directive approaches the therapist provides a safe environment within which clients can ‘play out’ feelings and problems and work through issues at their own speed without judgement or interpretation.

 

How does Play Therapy work?

Creating a warm and empathetic therapeutic relationship and safe environment are essential to the success of play therapy.  Using Axline’s principles of accepting the client as is, establishing a permissive environment with limited boundaries to keep the therapist and child safe, making the client aware of their responsibilities, following the child’s lead, reflecting back so that the client gains an insight, avoiding hurrying the process and giving the client responsibility to make choices, the therapist is able to help build a strong and safe relationship. Unlike school and home, play therapy can offer something different as the child has the therapist’s undivided attention and is free to choose which resources to play with and how, without even needing to tidy up! This can be immensely satisfying and fun for the child and is a key step in giving children the confidence, self-belief and coping strategies to help change their lives.

 

WHO CAN BENEFIT?

Play therapy has been clinically shown to benefit children and adolescents suffering from a range of traumas, emotional disturbances and distress. Current research form Play therapy United Kingdom (www.playtherapy.org.uk) indicates that play therapy can be extremely effective in bringing about sustainable improvements. Play therapy is suitable for all children including those with learning, physical and sensory difficulties. It can help alleviate many emotional and behavioural problems, including children who are:


  • Not realising their full potential academically or socially

  • At risk of being excluded from school

  • Unhappy or having friend problems

  • Having nightmares or disturbed sleep

  • Suffering as a result of trauma

  • Victims of neglect or emotional, physical or sexual abuse

  • Witnesses of domestic violence or substance misuse

  • Autistic, have ADHD, life limiting illnesses or disabilities

  • Experiencing transitional, behavioural or anger management problems

  • Being bullied or are bullying

  • Adopted or fostered

  • Suffering because of separated/divorced parents

  • Suffering from anxiety, stress, or phobias

  • Have low self-esteem

  • Suffering from a loss or bereavement


Working creatively helps clients recognise, understand and appropriately express their emotions as well as developing positive strategies for taking control. While educational attainment is not the key focus, play therapy contributes to this as it supports children’s move from a fight or flight state to a 'just right' state where they are ready to learn.

 

SESSION NUMBERS, TIMINGS & CONFIDENTIALITY

Sessions typically last 45 minutes and the therapist helps the client to manage their time by providing a countdown. Consistency of time and day and confidentiality are key so while the client is free to share with others what they do within sessions, the therapist will only disclose details if there is a child protection or safeguarding concern.


Play therapy interventions may be short term (i.e. 12 weeks) or long term which could be a year or more. Before play therapy begins a Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) is used to highlight areas of need and provide baseline data which will help determine how many sessions are offered. This SDQ is repeated after 8 weeks and at the end of play therapy to compare progress against the therapeutic objectives.

 

THE PLAY THERAPY TOOLKIT

The relationship between the therapist and client is the most important ingredient in play therapy. Key to this is the therapist’s acceptance of the child as is (Virginia Axline’s principles) and establishment of trust and a safe environment within which they can begin to process feelings and trauma. With play a child’s language, it is through the choice of toys and equipment, described as the ‘Toolkit’, that the therapist communicates their noticing and acceptance of the child’s interests and needs, and that they have kept them in mind.


As children are naturally active and explore with their senses they need plentiful opportunities to access enriching resources. Sue’s toolkit of play resources includes:


  • sand

  • messy play materials

  • clay and playdough

  • art materials and paint

  • puppets

  • dressing-up clothes

  • a dolls house

  • kitchen and workbench

  • musical instruments

  • collections of miniatures

  • books for storytelling

  • construction play resources

  • board and card games

 

SAFETY

Safety is paramount when working with children and young people. To ensure safe and professional practice Sue takes the following actions:

  • full clinical supervision

  • holds enhanced DBS Certificate

  • Level 1 Safeguarding Certificate

  • Prevent training qualified

  • holds Professional Liability Insurance

  • works within PTUL and BACP’s Ethical Framework

  • member of Play Therapy UK (PTUK) and BAPC (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy)

  • CPD through ongoing training

 

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