What is Play Therapy?

The American Association for Play Therapy (APT) defines play therapy as “the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development”. (http://www.a4pt.org/ps.index.cfm?ID=1653)

Play Therapy International (PTI) defines “Therapeutic play, (including play therapy), is a well established discipline based upon a number of psychological theories. Research, both qualitative and quantitative shows that it is highly effective in many cases”. (http://www.playtherapy.org/playhowdoestpwork.html)

Play Therapy UK (PTUK) definition:

Play Therapy uses a variety of play and creative arts techniques (the ‘Play Therapy Tool-Kit’) to alleviate chronic, mild and moderate psychological and emotional conditions in children that are causing behavioural problems and/or are preventing children from realising their potential.

The Play Therapist works integratively using a wide range of play and creative arts techniques, mostly responding to the child’s wishes. This distinguishes the Play Therapist from more specialised therapists (Art, Music, Drama etc). The greater depth of skills and experience distinguishes the play therapist from those using therapeutic play skills. In order to become a PTUK Certified Play Therapist a minimum of 200 hours of supervised clinical work is required whilst in training. A total of 450 hours are required to become a PTUK Accredited Play Therapist.

The Play Therapist forms a short to medium term therapeutic relationship and often works systemically taking into account and perhaps dealing with the social environment of the clients (peers, siblings, family, school etc). Clinical supervision is essential.

Play therapy may be non-directive (where the child decides what to do in a session, within safe boundaries – see Axline’s rules), directive (where the therapist leads the way) or a mixture of the two. Play therapy is particularly effective with children who cannot, or do not want to talk about their problems. (http://www.playtherapy.org.uk/AboutPlayTherapy/PlayTherapyDefinition1.htm)

The Rocky Mountain Play Therapy Institute (RMPTI) definition:

Play Therapy is a therapeutic approach based on developmental principles. It is a process where the child chooses objects, symbols, or types of play to express their concerns and work through particular problems. Play therapists are trained to observe and facilitate the therapy process. The main goals, regardless of the issue, are to help children regain their former level of functioning, enhance self-esteem and build the child’s coping resources. It is ideally suited to children two to twelve years of age. Parents are considered extremely important partners in the therapy process and are invited to take on a number of roles. (http://www.rmpti.com/playtherapy.html)


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