HELPING children make sense of difficult life experiences or complex psychological issues is the role of a play therapist.
Play is a child’s natural way of communicating and with a play therapist they can explore various issues they might find difficult to express in other ways.
As a play therapist, you would usually work with children aged between 3 and 11 on a one-to-one basis, or in groups of up to six children.
You could work with children experiencing severe emotional pain and distress (such as depression, aggression or anxiety) caused by, for example:
l domestic violence
l family breakdown
l brain development problems.
You would aim to help children become more able to cope with their feelings, develop insight, emotional intelligence and confidence.
Throughout this process, you would work closely with the child’s parents or carers and other professionals such as teachers, social workers and nurses.
Your key duties would include:
l assessing the child’s needs
l running therapy sessions
l making use of toys (such as puppets, cars and dolls) and creative arts, including drawing, clay, sand, movement, music and therapeutic story telling
l developing symbolic communication with children, which involves making a connection between the signs, symbols and actions the child creates through play and how these reflect their experiences
l creating an in-depth therapeutic relationship, which promotes positive change in the child by helping them to help themselves.
Occasionally, you may need to attend court to give evidence, for example in a child protection or custody case.
You may find that many employers offer part-time hours only.
You would mainly work indoors, possibly in a specially equipped playroom or in a child’s own home or school.
You are likely to work in a number of different settings during your working week. Therapy sessions are usually held once a week, Monday to Friday, and take around 40 minutes.
For a full-time post, salaries can be between £25,000 and £33,000 a year. With experience this can rise to around £38,000.
Many employers will prefer you to have an approved postgraduate qualification and registration with the British Association of Play Therapists (BAPT) or Play Therapy UK (PTUK).
To get on to a BAPT course you will usually need:
l a degree in a relevant subject (such as psychology, social work or nursing) – check with course providers for details
l two years’ experience of working with children and families (paid or voluntary)
l good physical and mental health.
You will also need Criminal Records Bureau clearance.
Many people get into play therapy as a second career after working extensively with children in a related area such as teaching or occupational therapy.
The BAPT and PTUK websites have more advice about training courses, entry criteria and relevant qualifications.
A driving licence would be useful for this work.
Once you are on a BAPT or PTUK approved course, you would have clinical placements and formal supervision with qualified and experienced colleagues (supervision sessions would take place throughout your career).
When the course is complete, you can apply for full membership of the BAPT or become a PTUK Certified Play Therapist, which many employers ask for before you start work in this post.
During a BAPT course, you would also have personal therapy (or counselling).
As a member of the BAPT or PTUK, you will need to continue your professional development (CPD) in order to maintain your membership. You can do this by attending further courses and conferences. With the PTUK, you will also need to provide evidence of the quality of your work (known as clinical governance). Check their websites for details and CPD opportunities.