What is Play Therapy?

Many children, and some teens, struggle to talk about their feelings, and even if they can they may not want to as it may be too frightening, too confusing or too painful. This can leave the adults around them feeling at a loss for how to help them. We are expecting the child to join us in the way we communicate, which as adults is usually deeply reliant on words, whereas a child’s communication is reliant on play. If we learn how to watch their play we learn so much about what is important to them, what they are grappling with and we can meet them here.

Play Therapy is a child-friendly form of counselling/therapy that uses play, as well as talking, as a medium for communication and dealing with difficult feelings. As with therapy or counselling with adults, a safe and caring space is offered, which with time enables children to share parts of themselves and their experiences that they might not otherwise have been able to share. Through playing and talking about these feelings and experiences the child starts to process and work through the difficulties until they are resolved to a ‘good enough’ level. It is through the combination of the play and the relationship with the therapist that change occurs.

The British Association of Play Therapy (BAPT) describe Play Therapy as follows, “Play Therapy is a way of helping children express their feelings and deal with their emotional problems, using play as the main communication tool”.

As a Play Therapist neither myself nor my client are limited by having to rely on words to communicate. We can use sand trays, play, art, drama, clay, play doh and other creative ways of expressing feelings, fears or desires. With children this is crucial as if they are only supported to communicate through words we severely limit what they are able to communicate and process. It is helpful when we just can’t find the words to express the depths of what we are feeling and is great with teenagers who are reluctant to talk. If you need any persuading on this matter watch this short clip from the Association for Play Therapy (an American organization)…

NB: If you are looking for a professional to help you with emotional and behavioral issues it is crucial that you work with someone who is fully qualified, a member of the relevant professional body and has a current DBS check (a check that you have no criminal convictions that prevent you from working with children). Personally I would also want the professional to have had several years of therapy themselves as this will reduce the likelihood that the therapist’s own issues will impact on the support you or your child receives.


Chrissie is a registered Play Therapist, Certified Foundational Theraplay Practitioner and Qualified TRE Practitioner. Sessions are usually held at Hannahs, at Seale-Hayne near Newton Abbot. She can be contacted on 07840069075 or childtherapysouthdevon@gmail.com.