Play Therapy

Play Therapy in Ireland

Studies have shown that 1 in 5 children in Ireland show some form of emotional, social or behavioural problems, ranging from ADHD, anxiety and conduct difficulties to depression, low self-esteem and violent behaviours. Often, children get stuck in their development because of something that has happened, maybe incidents of bullying, a loss in the family, significant life changes or trauma, and this then stops them from being as well-adjusted, happy and successful as they could be.

Play Therapy, a therapeutic intervention designed specifically for children and teenagers, is becoming more and more known as a suitable and highly effective support, helping children resolve difficult feelings and experiences and getting them back on the developmental track. Play Therapy Ireland (PTIrl) and Play Therapy UK (PTUK) have studied the effectiveness of Play Therapy for the past decade and unprecedented large-scale studies show that over 80% of children with emotional, social and behavioural problems show a positive change as a result of Play Therapy delivered to PTUK standards. This makes Play Therapy one of the most effective therapeutic interventions available worldwide.

What is Play Therapy?

Play Therapy provides a safe space for children and teenagers to explore and express their experiences and emotions and develop new ways of coping with their world. Many people, especially younger children, do not readily have words to explain their feelings and reasons behind their behaviour but easily express themselves through creative media and play, such as art materials, sand play, clay, small figures, puppets, instruments, stories and drama and movement props.  Play Therapy is particularly effective with children as it uses their natural language of make-belief and pretend. Play engages children, offering opportunities to express themselves in a way that is safe, release frustration and, with the help of an accepting and attuned Play Therapist, develop new insights and understanding. The therapist accepts each client as s/he is and facilitates free expression, without pressure or expectations. As children come to trust the consistent therapeutic space, they begin to freely express their feelings of sadness, anger or anxiety through play and without needing to explain; they explore different outcomes and feel in charge of their created worlds. Play Therapy is completely child-centred and allows children and teenagers to find their own unique way through difficult situations, creating confidence in their abilities and strengths. Many parents, who opt for Play Therapy for their child, notice a clear increase in self-esteem and talking about what is going on for them after a few sessions, as well as a decrease of whatever behaviour led to concern.

 What can parents expect to happen during Play Therapy

Play Therapy is very much a collaborate process as the therapist and parent/s work together to find new ways of addressing specific difficulties, meeting the child’s needs and thus reducing the occurrence of concerning behaviours. Play Therapy sessions generally last between 40 and 50 minutes and are held in a designated room, a space that allows freedom of expression within safe boundaries and uninterrupted time. In order to facilitate the development of a trusting relationship, sessions are usually scheduled once a week at a regular time and day, but may be bi-weekly for older children. Parents remain in a waiting area, available throughout as occasionally their child may want to share something that is important to them. As a psychotherapeutic intervention, Play Therapy is confidential in order to increase children’s trust to express even difficult issues. However, crucially, any concerns regarding your child’s safety or development will always be shared with you with a view as to how to best support your child’s well-being.

Many parents enquire about how long it will take to resolve their child’s problems. The answer to that question always differs as it depends on the individual child and circumstances, the complexity and longevity of difficulties and how consistently you are able to attend sessions. An initial assessment meeting without the child present and regular reviews with you and your child will help to determine when to conclude Play Therapy. Some children respond well to short-term interventions of 8 weeks but the more complex or long-term the child’s needs are, the longer therapy will necessarily take.

Does Play Therapy Work?

Studies have shown that child-led Play Therapy is highly effective in alleviating children’s emotional, social and behavioural problems as well as in increasing their coping abilities and self-confidence. As a matter of fact, with over 80% of children showing a positive change from pre-therapy to post-therapy assessments, Play Therapy is one of the most effective therapeutic interventions available worldwide. Research has shown that Play Therapy can alleviate a variety of difficulties, such as:

  • Social exclusion/ difficult relationships
  • Communication problems
  • Emotional and self-esteem problems
  • Abuse experiences
  • Underperforming/ poor academic achievement
  • Concentration/ attention
  • Separation/ divorce
  • Anger, aggression, violence
  • Stress , anxiety, phobias, social withdrawal
  • Loss/ bereavement,
  • Nightmares/ bedwetting
  • Coping with developmental difficulties: ADHD, Developmental Delay, Selective Mutism, Physical Difficulties
  • Attachment difficulties
  • Substance misuse/ self-destructive behaviours
  • Going into Care/ Adoption

 How can parents find a trained and vetted Play Therapist for their child?

While state regulation of psychology services in Ireland is to be phased in by 2017 by CORU, Ireland’s multi-profession health regulator, there are no imminent plans to focus specifically on the provision of therapeutic services for children and adolescents, one of the most vulnerable groups in society. Fortunately, parents may make use of the Irish Section of the Register of Play and Creative Arts Therapists, which is administered by Play Therapy UK (an affiliate of Play Therapy Ireland) and accredited by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (PSA), the UK equivalent to CORU. This is the first accredited register of its kind in Europe, taking into account fitness to practice specifically with children. Choosing a Play Therapist from a PSA Accredited Register gives parents peace of mind, knowing that the person they choose has been vetted, is appropriately trained to work with children, completes yearly clinical audits, participates in Continuous Professional Development and Clinical Supervision and is committed to high standards and fair complaints procedures. Using the Irish Section of the Register of Play and Creative Arts Therapists allows parents to find effective practitioners in their area, providing assurance of high quality practice and that their child is in safe hands.

Written by Janine Nehrig, Certified Play Therapist with ARCH Therapy 089 4153493