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Baby playing with toys

The play therapy revolution

Children are some of the most innocent and vulnerable in our society, and those who work directly with them can sometimes feel as if they’re fighting an uphill battle. Many different professions, such as nurses, doctors, social workers, teachers, and speech pathologists, work tirelessly in their attempts to unlock the feelings and thoughts of children.

Child play therapy is an approach to therapy that incorporates play into counselling or therapeutic activities. And it’s successfully helping practitioners work with children.

But what is child play therapy, and how can it help those in fields which directly work with children?

Dr Judi Parson, senior lecturer in child play therapy at Deakin University, says child play therapy could be a game-changer for those working directly with children.

Child play therapy and its benefits

Child play therapy, although relatively new to Australia, can be traced back 100 years. It’s based around a child’s instincts and utilises play, rather than words, to facilitate a more comfortable environment and better outcomes for those working with children.

‘Play therapy is a developmentally sensitive, evidence-based counselling or psychotherapeutic approach for working with children based on the premise that play is a child’s first language, and that play is naturally therapeutic,’ Dr Parson says. ‘Play is both the mode and the process for therapeutic change.’

The benefits of play therapy are in its ability to allow practitioners to adapt to the specific needs of vulnerable children. It is also versatile enough to accommodate a wide range of ages and backgrounds.

‘Through play, children can process difficult life experiences including abuse, neglect, trauma, illness, grief and loss, and a range of social, emotional, behavioural and mental health concerns,’ Dr Parson says.

‘Various modalities of the approach can be used with infants, children, adolescents, teens and families.’


'Through play, children can process difficult life experiences including abuse, neglect, trauma, illness, grief and loss, and a range of social, emotional, behavioural and mental health concerns.'

Dr Judi Parson,
Senior lecturer, School of Health and Social Development

The effectiveness of play therapy

Play therapy is designed to be a tool for trained professionals working with children in tough situations to facilitate positive outcomes. Practitioners can use the therapeutic powers of play in a targeted way to deal with the mental health and well-being of children in a way that feels natural and almost second-nature for them. While adults benefit more from counselling, play allows children to express themselves in a unique and unfiltered style.

‘The therapeutic powers of play are the specific, targeted ingredients in the therapy that initiate, facilitate and strengthen the therapy outcomes. In the academic literature, the therapeutic powers of play are referred to as the heart and soul of play therapy,’ Dr Parson says, quoting the ‘father of play therapy’ Emeritus Professor Charles E Schaefer.

This approach is positive for professionals as well as children in what could otherwise be a scary and intimidating process.

‘Children adore this approach to therapy and often remark that they never knew such a place as the playroom existed. I asked one child about the playroom, and they shared with me that “that is the complete opposite of scary in there”,’ Dr Parson says.

Becoming qualified in play therapy 

Qualifying for play therapy will not only complement prior education and working knowledge with a brand-new set of techniques, but it can make a real difference in the lives of children.

So, which professions would benefit from a qualification in play therapy?

According to Dr Parson, most qualified professionals who work with children could utilise the skillset to create a safer and more engaging environment.

‘Play therapists come from a range of primary disciplines and usually have an undergraduate degree in counselling, nursing, occupational therapy, psychology, social work or welfare, or early childhood or primary school educators,’ Dr Parson says.

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Dr Judi Parson
Dr Judi Parson

Senior lecturer, School of Health and Social Development, Deakin University

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