Play Therapist  What They Do

Just the Facts


Insider Info

dotPlay therapy involves observing, and sometimes participating in, the play of children. Generally, the children are 10 years of age and under. Therapy is normally for children who have been abused or are currently in stressful situations.

dotSome play therapists are psychologists. Some are social workers. Most are counselors, either in elementary schools or with government agencies. These people use play therapy as one tool in their toolbox. So, a play therapist is always more than just a play therapist.

dotGarry Landreth is the author of seven books on play therapy. He runs the largest play therapy training program in the world. "In play therapy, toys are like the child's words. And play is like the child's language," he says.

"So, the play therapist's job is to understand the child's play language. In the training of play therapists, we're teaching them how to understand the language of play."

It's often not possible to ask a young child how they feel. And they can't think their problem through the way many adults can. So, a play therapist watches a child at play to understand how the child feels. They suggest activities that help the child deal with their feelings.

dotThe number of hours play therapists work depends on their job. For example, if they're a psychologist or counselor with their own practice, they can decide how many clients to accept. Many play therapists are elementary school counselors who work 9 to 5, but larger schools can have greater demands.

dotPlay therapy is not a physically demanding job. It can take a lot of energy, however, to deal with kids all day. That's why most play therapists also counsel teenagers and adults. Balance is important.

"Kids are more fun," says play therapist Ellen Lacter. "Working with adults is kind of intense and often very sad. If you have a mix of kids in your day, it's nice. But if you have kids all day, that can be exhausting."

Landreth agrees. "For the majority of people, play therapy is just a part of their total services. In fact, it's not recommended that a person spend most of their time on any one age group, because they get burned out."

At a Glance

Help kids through play

  • Most therapists offer play therapy as part of a larger practice
  • You need excellent observation skills
  • The minimum education is a master's degree in mental health counseling, psychology or social work


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