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What is Play Therapy?

Child centred play therapy (CCPT) is a structured, theoretically based approach to therapy that builds on the normal communicative and learning processes of children. Therapists strategically use play therapy to help children express what is troubling them when they do not have the verbal language to express their thoughts and feelings. In play therapy, toys are like the child’s words and play is the child’s language.  

Initially developed in the early 20th century, play therapy differs from regular play in that the therapist helps children to address and resolve their own problems. Play therapy builds on the natural way that children learn about themselves and their relationships with the world around them. Through play therapy children learn to communicate with others, express feelings, modify behavior, develop problem solving skills, and learn a variety of ways of relating to others. Play provides a safe psychological distance from their problems and allows expression of thoughts and feelings appropriate to their development. 

Children are referred for play therapy to resolve their problems. Often, children have used up their own problem solving skills, and they misbehave, may act out at home, with friends, and at school. Play therapy allows trained mental health practitioners who specialize in play therapy to assess and understand children’s play. Further play therapy is utilized to help children cope with difficult emotions and find solutions to problems. By confronting problems in the clinical play therapy setting children find healthier solutions. Play therapy allows children to change the way they think about, feel toward and resolve their concerns.  

Play therapy is appropriate for children aged 2- 12 years old. Teenagers and adults have also benefitted from play techniques and recreational processes. Research indicates typically a child will require around 20 sessions on a weekly basis depending on the child. Research also indicates greater success for children when parents and carers are actively involved in the therapeutic process.

Want more information?

To find more information please visit the Play Therapy Practitioners Association or American Play Therapists Association websites for an overview of non-directive child centred play therapy: