Play Therapy – reviewing the Evidence Base

27 Feb 2023

From 1942 to now Play Therapy research has been conducted to investigate clinical effectiveness, parental involvement, and the analysis of specific techniques.

In 2021, Be Centre engaged with the University of Newcastle (College of Human and Social Futures) to conduct a review of the evidence base for Play Therapy. Myles Egan, Research Assistant at the Hunter Research Foundation Centre, consolidated the findings from pre-existing meta-analytical studies and single case studies into the effectiveness of Play Therapy.

The key findings of this review found that:

  • Play Therapy has a positive effect on the behavioural and social-emotional competencies of children. This includes positive effects on:
    • Overall behaviour problems
    • Internalising behaviours
    • Externalising behaviours
    • Social adjustment
    • Anxiety and fear
    • Development
    • Self-efficacy
    • Self-concept
  • The positive effect of Play Therapy on behavioural and social-emotional competencies can be observed in both normal functioning children and children with specific presenting issues such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) and disruptive behaviours.
  • Play Therapy has a positive effect on academic performance, especially in the areas of reading, mathematics and spoken language.
  • Play Therapy has a positive effect on children’s relationships with their peers and family members.
  • Children whose parents and/or carers are involved in their Play Therapy journey exhibit greater benefits.
  • The treatment setting and format of a child’s Play Therapy experience can have an impact on its overall effectiveness.
  • The age, gender, cultural background and presenting issues of a child are unlikely to alter the effectiveness of Play Therapy.
  • There has yet to be comprehensive research into the lifelong benefits of Play Therapy. However, existing evidence suggests that:
    • Play can help to prevent the onset of health and well-being consequences associated with adverse childhood experiences.
    • The childhood benefits of Play Therapy may help to prevent individuals from exhibiting anti-social behaviour, criminal behaviour, and severe mental health issues in later life.

These findings are both significant and positive, and provide support for Play Therapy as an early intervention approach that is age appropriate for children.

Thank you to Myles Egan and the University of Newcastle for their support in conducting this review. The full report is available here.

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