What does a Play Therapist do?

A Play Therapist is a rewarding role that is just one of many options on graduation from our education degree courses. We’ve compiled some information about what to expect in this type of role, and how you can work towards a career as a Play Therapist.

Allowing our children to play (and have fun) is important for their well-being, and can increase their physical, social, and emotional development. It can also be an important way to communicate with children who need extra support. If you are keen to progress into a career that helps children deal with challenges and negative experiences, a career in Play Therapy could be for you. 

What does a Play Therapist do?

Play Therapists are skilled professionals, who work with children (and their families) to work through difficult situations and experiences such as bereavement, abuse and neglect, depression and anxiety, family conflicts, psychological issues or other traumatic experiences. They use play to help children express and understand their emotions and experiences, and learn how to cope with difficult situations. 

Roles and responsibilities

Key skills and traits required include:

  • Knowledge of psychology
  • Having a patient, calm and friendly manner (to make children feel secure)
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Sensitivity, understanding and a non-judgemental outlook
  • Ability to interpret a range of emotions and behaviours
  • Ability to adapt to change and cope with stressful situations
  • Good physical fitness (so you can work with children on the floor, or do physical activities)

A day in the life of a Play Therapist

Days can vary as a Play Therapist, and your day is often influenced by who you are working with, or what type of help you are providing.

You could be working with individuals or groups of children within a specific setting, such as a school or clinic, and therefore may work on a variety of topics. One example of this could be dealing with bereavement. Play Therapists are often called upon to help young people understand and cope with death and feelings of grief. This could be processing the loss of a close family member, or using play therapy to prepare a child for the future loss of someone important to them (such as a parent with terminal illness).

If you are based in a healthcare setting, you may be helping children and their families come to terms with medical diagnoses, helping them to find new ways of coping, and learning within their changed environments.

Whatever your work environment might be, you will be assessing children constantly, firstly to investigate how you can help them with a particular issue, and then to see how they are progressing. You may need to work with other professionals (teachers, GPs, social workers, etc.) to ensure everyone involved with that child has the information they need, and you’ll need to keep accurate and confidential records for every case you work on. You’ll use a variety of play therapy techniques and media to help your clients to express their emotions and explore their experiences. These could include a combination of drawing, arts and crafts, sand play, music, or storytelling, and you’ll be able to tailor this to the age of the child you are working with, to make the sessions as effective as possible.

Generally speaking, you can expect to work standard office hours, but the role may include evenings and weekends, depending on who you are working with. 

Emotional resilience is key for this type of work, but knowing that you are helping a child and their family to make positive steps towards their future is really rewarding.

How to become a Play Therapist

There are three main steps to becoming a Play Therapist. 

  1. Obtain a degree in a subject such as Early Childhood Studies, Psychology, Mental Health Nursing, Occupational Therapy, Music, Drama or Art.
  2. Gain experience of working with children in a capacity such as teaching, nursing, counselling, therapy or social work, and finally:
  3. Gain a postgraduate qualification (and registration) from either the British Association of Play Therapists (BAPT) or Play Therapy UK (PTUK). Before you can commence work in this role, you would also need to complete a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. 

Explore our courses in education

Take a look at the courses we offer to help you kick start your career working with children and families.

See our courses