Play therapists use play as a form of communication to assist children in understanding their environment and coping with emotional pain and trauma.
Play therapy treatments in a safe and non-threatening atmosphere may help children become more emotionally resilient and better able to absorb and cope with their experiences. You may also work with your parents/caregivers and siblings.
Complex problems cannot be addressed in the same way that adults do. Instead, you must understand how youngsters express themselves and learn about the world via play.
Throughout your apprenticeship, you may help:
- assess a child’s needs in consultation with parents, carers and other professionals
- run individual or group therapy sessions at a regular time and place
- use creative arts, like drawing, clay, sand, movement, music and therapeutic storytelling
- monitor children’s progress
- promote positive change in the child by helping them to help themselves
- take part in regular supervision sessions with a more experienced therapist
- run workshops for parents and other professionals
- keep confidential record systems up to date and write reports.
- Apprentice play therapists start on £24,000 per year.
- Salaries for newly qualified play therapists typically start at around £31,000 to £32,000.
- With experience, you can earn between around £38,000 to £45,000, depending on how much, and the level of, experience you have. With further training and specialist areas of expertise, you could earn in excess of this amount.
- Many play therapists also work independently or take on private clients in addition to paid employment.
Play therapy sessions are typically done once a week for 40 to 50 minutes.
Mondays through Fridays during normal business hours are common (9 am to 5 pm). However, if you deal with clients privately, your sessions may take place outside these hours to meet their needs.
You could work at a client’s home, at a children’s care home, at a health centre or at a school.
Your working environment may be emotionally demanding.
Qualifications you can achieve as an apprentice play therapist include:
- Level 7 Play Therapist – Entry requirements for this level include 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) and A levels, or equivalent, for a higher or degree apprenticeship. This qualification will take 36 months to complete.
On a play therapist apprenticeship, you’ll learn:
- sensitivity and understanding
- excellent verbal communication skills
- the ability to understand people’s reactions
- knowledge of psychology
- patience and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations
- the ability to work well with others
- to be flexible and open to change
- the ability to accept criticism and work well under pressure
- to be able to use a computer and the main software packages competently.
As a qualified play therapist you can work for a range of employers, including:
- child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS)
- children and family charities
- children’s centres
- fostering and adoption services
- the NHS – in hospitals or hospices
- private children’s residential homes
- social work services.
Once accredited, you will be responsible for your continuing professional development (CPD). The BAPT and PTUK demand their members maintain their education and training regularly, and they provide several training courses and conferences throughout the year. To ensure the quality and standards of your practice, you will also need to continue getting clinical supervision regularly.
Short courses on specialised topics such as coping with families, gender and sexual identity, or the most modern therapeutic practises enable you to broaden your knowledge and keep up to date. It is possible to pursue studies at the PhD level. Connect with other play therapists by attending conferences and events.
Depending on your past credentials and experience, you may be qualified to join other relevant professional groups, such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychology (BACP) or the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), which might lead to further work prospects and career progression. Each organisation has its entry requirements, so be sure you meet them.
After being licenced and practising in the profession, you may specialise in a specific area of play therapy, such as counselling victims of sexual assault, drug abuse, or domestic violence. It is also possible to broaden your practice to include family therapy or to work with children with unique physiological difficulties, such as deafness. Some go on to work as play therapists with adults.
There are several ways to rise to managerial roles. You will have more responsibility for supervising workers or a team of staff, managing a budget and creating or presenting reports. You may spend less time directly engaging with children.
Take into account training or academic teaching as well. The BAPT and PTUK encourage experienced play therapists and those just starting in the field to become clinical supervisors.
With your knowledge, consider freelancing or creating your own practice.