How to become a Play Therapist. Read through our comprehensive job guide to learn more about play therapist careers.
What does a Play Therapist do?
Play therapists help children to make sense of difficult life experiences or complex psychological issues through the activity of play. 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:
- domestic violence
- family breakdown
- brain development problems.
You would aim to help children become more able to cope with how they are feeling, 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:
- assessing the child’s needs
- running therapy sessions at a regular time and place
- making use of toys (such as puppets, cars and dolls) and creative arts, including drawing, clay, sand, movement, music and therapeutic story telling
- 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
- 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.
How much does a Play Therapist earn?
Salary and pay information:
- For a full-time post, salaries can be between £27,000 and £36,000 a year.
- With experience this can rise to around £41,000.
The BAPT suggests fees of between £45 and £78 for a session of around 50 minutes.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
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:
- a degree in a relevant subject (such as psychology, social work or nursing) – check with course providers for details
- two years’ experience of working with children and families (paid or voluntary)
- good physical and mental health.
You will also need Criminal Records Bureau clearance.
- Criminal Records Bureau
To get on to a PTUK approved course, you will normally need:
- experience of working with children or teenagers using therapeutic play or creative art
- a degree, professional qualification or NVQ Level 4 gained through working in an area such as teaching, nursing, or nursery nursing.
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.
Training and Development
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.
Skills and Knowledge
- empathy and an open and friendly manner
- the ability to gain the trust of children
- resilience and insight for working with children in emotional distress
- good spoken and written communication skills
- a broad knowledge of child development
- a good understanding of the different ways children communicate their feelings
- an honest and sincere respect for children
- a flexible and motivated approach to work
- the ability to work with difficult behaviour or facts, without making judgements
- a good understanding of issues surrounding confidentiality
- the ability to work alone and in a team.
You could work within social services departments, child mental health services, family centres, education, and independent and voluntary services (such as Barnardo’s and the NSPCC).
Many jobs within play therapy are offered on a part-time basis, and you may need to work with more than one organisation or work within another profession in order to achieve full-time hours.
With experience and further training, you could also supervise less experienced therapists, and provide a consultation service to professionals in the community. You could also move into training, lecturing or providing clinical supervision.
You may find the following useful for job vacancies and general reading:
- The Guardian
- Community Care
- Therapy Today
- NHS Jobs