Play Therapy

While adults may use counselling to help them through difficulties, it’s not always so effective for children. This is because a child’s cognitive abilities and verbal skills are still developing – and words aren’t necessarily the easiest way to connect with them. That’s where Play Therapy comes in.

What is Play Therapy?

Play Therapy was developed to give children another type of support; one that taps into their most natural means of learning and expression. Through play, kids can work through emotions and experiences, in a safe space that’s centred on them – feeling a sense of acceptance, encouragement and freedom.

As well as helping children through difficult times, Play Therapy can also help them develop life-enhancing qualities such as confidence and resilience – and it can even be used to improve family relationships by giving parents a greater insight into their child’s experiences.

Well-established and evidence-based, Play Therapy is an approach founded on a number of psychological theories. It has been widely used in the UK and US and is fast gaining recognition in Australia as an effective intervention and therapy.

For children to play out their experiences and feelings is the most natural, dynamic and self-healing process in which children can engage.


Garry L Landreth Ed.D, LPC, RPI-S, Director Emeritus of the Association for Play Therapy

A Therapist’s Toolkit

A Play Therapist’s toolkit provides a selection of therapeutic play equipment for the children to work with. More than just toys, these items are chosen for their ability to offer the children many different opportunities for self-expression and creativity – allowing them to explore and make sense of their world.
Play equipment may include:

Arts & Crafts
Dress Ups

Who Can Play Therapy Help?

Play Therapy can help when children are struggling with a range of challenges including:

Low Self-esteem
Poor Social Skills / Peer Relations
Bereavement and Grief
Divorce or Family Breakdown
Abuse / Neglect
Bullying / Being Bullied
Medical Trauma
Domestic Violence
Impact of parental mental health issues

Play Therapy Principles

Child-centred, non-directive Play Therapy is founded on eight principles developed by pioneering psychologist Virginia Axiline.

These principles offer guidance on a therapeutic approach, in which a Play Therapist:

1. Develops a warm and friendly relationship with the child.

2. Accepts the child as he or she is.

3. Establishes a feeling of permission in the relationship so that the child feels free to express his or her feelings completely

4. Is alert to the feelings the child is expressing and reflects these back in a way that facilitates the child gaining insight into his/her behaviour.

5. Maintains a deep respect for the child’s ability to solve his/her problems and gives the child the opportunity to do so – the responsibility to make choices and to institute change being the child’s.

6. Does not attempt to direct the child’s actions or conversations in any manner – the child leads, the therapist follows.

7. Does not hurry the therapy along – it is a gradual process.

8. Only establishes those limitations necessary to anchor the therapy to the world of reality and to make the child aware of his/her responsibility in the relationship.

These principles emphasise the importance of a practitioner being able to use a comprehensive Play Therapy toolkit, which will enable the therapist to follow the child’s lead.

Useful Links

1- Play Therapy: How It Helps Children Feel Better and Improve Behaviour

A publication of the Canadian Association for Play Therapy

2- Understanding Play Therapy: Solving Problems Through Play

Dr. Giuseppe (Joe) Accardi

3- Play Therapy for treating trauma in children: A Psychologist gives the lowdown

Lorraine Lynch

4- What is Play Therapy?

UNT Centre for Play Therapy

5- Evidence-Based Child Therapy

Evidence Based Child Therapy

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