About Play Therapy

First developed at the start of the 20th Century, Play therapy is increasingly used to treat a range of children’s emotional and behavioural problems, as outlined in the table below. Play Therapy is now a well researched and effective form of psychotherapy/counselling for a wide range of childhood emotional, behavioural, social and psychological difficulties.

Children use play as a natural form of communication in everyday life and opportunities to play are important for every child’s development. However play therapy is a different experience than everyday play for the child, as the specialised skills of the trained play therapist enables the child to enter into a therapeutic relationship wherein the child can safely express, explore and make sense of their difficult and sometimes painful life experiences.

Play Therapy builds on the child’s inner resources and strengths, which are supported by the therapeutic relationship to bring about growth, development and healing in the child. Play therapy helps children develop confidence and positive self-esteem, find healthier ways of communicating and can promote resilience and coping, in ways that are appropriate to their age and developmental stage. As the child in Play Therapy is helped to cope with and work through difficult feelings, memories and experiences, he/she develops ways of dealing with them more effectively within the playroom and generally transfers these newly developed skills to his/her everyday life.

Who Can Play Therapy Help?

Play Therapy is especially appropriate for children aged between 3 and 11 years, because it is uniquely responsive to children’s developmental needs. Some Play Therapists trained fully in non directive humanistic play therapy approaches are able to work with children from 2 years old, providing a wonderful opportunity for very early intervention.

A review of research on play therapy found that humanistic, non directive methods of play therapy are a particularly effective intervention for problems children may experience with behaviour, social adjustment and personality (Bratton, Ray & Rhine, 2005).

These include but are not limited to the following:

  • Adoption, Fostering and Out of Home Care issues
  • Aggressive, oppositional and acting out behaviours
  • Anxiety
  • Attachment issues
  • Childhood depression
  • Chronic Illness and Hospitalisation
  • Encopresis and Enuresis
  • Grief & Loss
  • Sleeping and eating difficulties
  • Trauma including birth and pre birth trauma
  • Peer Relationships
  • School difficulties
  • Selective Mutism
  • Self Esteem & Identity Issues
  • Sibling Rivalry

Play Therapy is also a highly effective adjunctive treatment for the emotional difficulties which can arise when a child has been accurately diagnosed with a neurological, biological or organic disorder (Cochran et all 2010: 6). This could include the following:

  • ADD & ADHD
  • Autistic Spectrum Disorders (subject to assessment of
  • Speech problems
  • Developmental delays

Bratton, S., & Landreth, G., http://www.ericdigests.org/2000-1/play.html
Baggerly, J.N., Ray, D.C., & Bratton, S. (2010) Child-Centered Play Therapy Research: The Evidence Base for Effective Practice
Bratton, S., Ray, D., & Rhine, T (2005) ‘The Efficacy of Play Therapy with Children: A Meta- Analytic Review of Treatment Outcomes’ in Professional Psychology, Research & Practice Vol 36. NO.4 376-390.
Cochran, N., Nordling, W., & Cochran, J., (2010) Child Centred Play Therapy: A practical guide to developing therapeutic relationships with children. John Wiley and Son, New Jersey.
Landreth, G. (ed) (2001) Innovations in Play Therapy: Issues, Process and Special Populations. Brunner Routledge, New York
Landreth, G., (2002) Play Therapy – The Art of the Relationship 2nd ed. Brunner Routledge, New York.
Landreth, G., et al (2005), World of Play Therapy Literature, 4th Ed. Center for Play Therapy, University of North Texas

The American Association for Play Therapy also has an excellent video on Play Therapy on YouTube which can be found here. http://www.youtube.com/assn4playtherapy

For more information on the history and effectiveness of play therapy please follow these links to the American Association of Play Therapy website and the websites of other organisations:

UNITED STATES: www.a4pt.org

IRELAND: www.ipta.ie

UNITED KINGDOM: www.bapt.info