What is Play Therapy?

What is Play & Creative Arts Therapy ?

Play Therapy / Play and Creative Arts Therapy is a specialized form of counselling / psychotherapy, which, unlike many other types of therapeutic approaches does not rely upon speech; whereas adults generally communicate through language, children tend to use play instead of words to communicate, which can also make the whole process feel safer. Play therapy is a non-invasive, client led type of therapy, which is particularly useful for those struggling/less inclined to articulate their thoughts and feelings.

Play therapy is an excellent way to help children and young people to to express their thoughts and deal with any emotional problems they are dealing with. Connecting us with our unconscious mind and those memories and experiences that may be hidden away or struggle to recall; during play, we can connect with these hidden memories and bring them out into the conscious world easier than if we had to sit and talk about them.

Play therapists facilitate the communication and expression of emotions as well as the processing and working through those emotions utilising a combination of both 'directive' and 'non-directive' therapy, which provides a space for children in which to explore their feelings and emotions with a therapist trained to attune to the child’s feelings, and help them bring about change, particularly in relation to how they see themselves, the world, and others.

Non-directive therapy allows a child to work through their difficulties in their own way through their lead.

Directive therapy is where the therapist suggests activities to support the child to address and process their difficulties.

Session types

Individual:  An individual 1:1 play therapy session will last around 40 minutes and will be just the child and qualified play therapist. 12 sessions are the minimum for short term interventions. Although we can also offer longer term therapy of 24-30 sessions if required. Sessions will involve a mixture of non-directive (child-led) and more directed activities related to the relevant issue.

Groups: This is usually a small group with a ratio of 4 children to one qualified play therapist and will be a minimum of 6 sessions typically lasting 50 minutes. Group sessions are often more directive in nature to support the group with a specific issue e.g. bereavement, siblings, social skills, parents' separating, bullying, changing schools.

The creative toolkit

Therapeutic games
Fans - movement
Musical instruments
Books about death for children

Play and Creative Arts therapy utilises a range of resources & play activities, which act as the main communication tool and enable the client to to connect with our inner self, allowing a child or adolescent to reach into their unconscious and explore their thoughts and feelings without having to put names to them, and without immediately having to claim them as their own which often helps them to feel safer and less threatened.

  • Sand tray
  • Figures & miniatures
  • Painting & drawing
  • Clay & Sculpture
  • Puppets
  • Dance & movement
  • Musical instruments
  • Role play & Masks
  • Creative Visualisation
  • Therapeutic stories

Can this help my child / a child you’re thinking of?

Play Therapy provides a way of empowering children to help themselves.

Any child or adolescent can be referred with minor educational or social difficulties through to those exposed to, or victims themselves of, severe trauma. Play and Creative arts therapy enables them to deal with problems or develop coping strategies for their issues whilst in a safe therapeutic environment with a qualified play therapist, and because it is designed to help children grow in the ways that development naturally happens, it can be used to help children with a variety of challenges.

Play Therapy has been used successfully with a wide range of difficulties in children and young people including those that have:

  • Separated / divorced parents
  • Suffers from anxiety, stress or phobias
  • Has suffered a loss or bereavement
  • Is withdrawn or continually unhappy
  • May have a long term or terminal illness
  • May struggle having a disability
  • Finds it difficult to make friends
  • Quarrels frequently with peers or siblings
  • Bullies others or is bullied themselves
  • Has nightmares or has disturbed sleep
  • Displays inappropriate behaviour
  • Is adopted / fostered or in the process of this (with consent)
  • Doesn’t play
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Learning / attention problems
  • Developmental delays
  • Experience of trauma
  • Sensory processing challenges
  • Social struggles,
  • Learning challenges,
  • Emotional difficulties.
  • Behavioural difficulties.
  • Are academically or socially under achieving
  • Is at risk of being/ is excluded from school
  • Has suffered emotional, physical or sexual abuse

Children suffering with emotional, physical and social problems respond well to play therapy and can help children become more self-reliant, more accepting of themselves, better problem solvers
as well as better able to assume responsibility for their own behaviour.

Research has shown that "between 72% and 83% of children receiving play therapy, delivered to PTUK/PTI standards, show a positive change.” Every child is different so patience is required by parents/referrers. It has to happen in the child's own time.

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DfE Department for Education
DfE (2016)

The DfE report - Mental Health and Behaviour in Schools: DfE advice for school staff (2016) mentions that between 72% and 83% of children receiving play therapy show a positive change. 

If you have any worries or concerns about your child or feel that your child is unhappy at home or school, then why not contact us to discuss your child's needs and how we can help.

A video from Clear Sky explaining how can Play Therapy can support children suffering with emotional and behavioural difficulties.

Useful Documents / Links

We hope you find our Play & Creative Arts Therapy Leaflet handout useful; It explains what it is, who it may support,  how we work with children / adolescents, as well as some of the benefits.