A play therapist provides psychotherapy to patients through the use of guided play. Children often benefit from this therapeutic approach, and it is available to adults as well, although the activities may be more structured for adults, as they often have trouble engaging in spontaneous playful activity. A play therapist can have a variety of certifications including membership in a professional organization of play therapists. Regional requirements for certification vary, and people should make sure they know the requirements for practice at the start of their training.
When a play therapist first meets a patient, the therapist may use play as a diagnostic tool. While the patient plays and manipulates objects, the therapist makes observations and interacts with the patient. The therapist may identify trauma, areas of delays in psychological development, and other issues. This information becomes the basis of a therapeutic program to help the patient process emotions, learn to express feelings, and develop a well-adjusted personality.
A play therapist may use therapy to help a patient process trauma and develop coping strategies, as well as assisting people to prevent the development of long-term psychological problems after trauma. Play therapy can also sometimes provide a medium for expression for patients who cannot communicate verbally or who have difficulty with verbal communication. This can include very young children who do not speak yet, as well as people who are unable to speak about trauma.
The play therapist provides a safe, structured environment for people to explore and express emotions. This can include guidance of play activities or more free form sessions, including group sessions where patients play together. The goal is to identify and address underlying psychological issues in the patient, and to help the patient mature and develop. Therapy may be useful for everyone from children struggling with a divorce to adults recovering from violent sexual assaults.
A play therapist can approach treatment from a variety of perspectives and may refer a patient who would benefit more from the services of a different therapist. These mental health professionals can also provide advice and information on different kinds of therapy for patients who feel that play is not an effective tool for their needs. Some develop long term therapeutic relationships, while others may see patients a limited number of times before referring them to other therapists. Play therapists may work in clinics, school counseling centers, or through home visits, and their wages vary, depending on who they work for and the kinds of services they offer.