Play Therapist Job Description

Play therapists, sometimes known as child life specialists, work with children who are experiencing psychological issues or traumatic events and utilise play as a therapeutic tool to treat psychosocial difficulties. Play therapists treat children who are suffering from depression, learning disabilities, aggression or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or those who have been victims of abuse, divorce or domestic violence. By allowing children to play with toys and engage in other enjoyable activities, therapists are able to help them express their feelings and learn to resolve their problems on their own.


Play therapists usually work with children between the ages of three and 11, though they may occasionally treat adolescents and adults as well. Therapy usually occurs on an individual basis, and children are taught to use toys and leisure activities to symbolise their thoughts and feelings. Play therapists often consult with other mental health professionals, including officials at hospitals, clinics, schools and courts, so they understand the childâ??s unique situation and emotional needs. They normally meet with children once a week for approximately an hour and use the initial sessions to establish a sense of comfort and routine for patients. Play therapists allow children to play with toys and express their feelings through therapeutic play. As children come to acknowledge their issues, they are able to find healthy ways of dealing with their problems, and resolutions can be acted out in a therapeutic setting until children can adapt them into life strategies.


Play therapists may be employed by a variety of organisations. Many work in hospitals or clinics, where they treat patients. Others work for social service agencies or schools. Non-profit childrenâ??s organisations may also employ play therapists, and play therapists may find work at training centres as teachers or lecturers. In addition, some operate private practices.


Most play therapists have a minimum of a masterâ??s degree in a mental health field, though many pursue a doctoral degree. Students may take courses in psychology, nursing, social work, education or occupational therapy. They also receive supervised clinical experience, so they become familiar with treating patients. In many states, play therapists must be licensed. Licensing requirements vary based on jurisdiction, but candidates are usually required to complete approved education programs and pass a licensing exam. Play therapists may also become certified by the Association for Play Therapy, which awards the Registered Play Therapist and Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor credentials. These certifications require therapists to earn a graduate degree in mental health, complete a minimum number of therapy training and clinical practice hours and continue to meet education standards by participating in continuing education courses.

Working Conditions

Play therapists may spend much of the day travelling, as they must meet with patients and consult with other mental health professionals. They usually work standard 40-hour weeks, but evening and weekend work may be required in order to accommodate patients. Working with children who have psychological issues can often be quite demanding, so play therapists require a strong support team to provide assistance when cases become difficult.


According to PayScale, the median salary for child life specialists, including play therapists, with less than a year of experience ranged from £22,343 to £29,757. Those with 10 to 19 years of experience earned as much as £33,469. The highest paying employer for play therapists were hospitals who offered median salaries ranging from £21,101 to £28,966.

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About the Author

Based in New York City, Jennifer Blair has been covering all things home and garden since 2001. Her writing has appeared on, World Lifestyle, and House Logic. Blair holds a Bachelor of Arts in Writing Seminars from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.