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Play Therapy for children & adults

This service provides Non-Directive Play Therapy. Let's learn about that.

The Power of Play

Neuroscience has revealed that the majority of the brain’s growth takes place within the first five years of a child’s life, and the act of play contributes significantly toward the development of interconnections between neurons. These neural links play a major role in key areas of the child’s life, such as learning, social development, emotional development, and memory.

Play is considered to be especially important for the healthy development of children who have experienced stressful events or past trauma. While the effects of trauma tend to reside in the nonverbal areas of the brain—the hippocampus, amygdala, thalamus, and brain stem—a person’s capacity to communicate and process adverse issues resides in the brain’s frontal lobes. As a result, children affected by trauma may find it difficult to let other people know that they need help and will not be able to verbalise events that happened to them pre-verbal. The physical and role-playing activities associated with play therapy have proven instrumental in helping to move traumatic memories and sensations from the nonverbal brain areas to the frontal lobes. 

When children are experiencing adverse personal issues they will often act out or engage in inappropriate behavior. Parents may be eager to help but may find it difficult or impossible to offer effective aid if a child is unable or unwilling to discuss the problem. Play therapy is thought to be one of the most beneficial means of helping children who are experiencing emotional or behavioral challenges. 

Non-directive Play Therapy is grounded in the idea that if allowed optimal therapeutic conditions and the freedom to play, people will be able to resolve issues on their own. This approach is viewed as non-intrusive since there is minimal instruction from the Play Therapist regarding how a person should engage in play.  


Play Therapy For Adults

There is a growing body of evidence which indicates Play Therapy is an effective tool to use with individual adults and with family groups, not just children. Northumberland Play & Filial Therapy Service is able to offer Play Therapy to both child and adult clients.

Play therapy can also be used to treat issues faced by teenagers and adults. By adulthood, most people have lost their ability to playfully explore themselves. Play therapists are trained to help adolescents, adults, and even the elderly relearn the values of play. Playful exploration has been proven to enhance both cognitive and physical behaviors, and there is a significant amount of research from the fields of neurophysiology and molecular biology that supports play therapy as a valid therapeutic technique for those past childhood. A growing number of organizations and experts are dedicated to play research and advocacy, believing that play is important for people of all ages.

Play has been shown to optimize learning, enhance relationships, and improve health and well-being. Adults and children engaged in a therapeutic alliance that focuses on play have an opportunity to choose from a variety of modalities such as movement (body play),dream play, nature play, social play, pretend (fantasy) play, creative play, storytelling, and vocal play. Play therapy may be used to address a variety of health challenges experienced by adults, especially if incorporated with other treatment modalities. One of the most significant benefits is that play can provide a comfortable and safe environment that may prompt an adult to approach more serious issues.


The Great Outdoors

In addition to traditional indoor Play Therapy appointments, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that Play Therapy can be an effective intervention when facilitated outdoors.  This is something that Northumberland Play & Filial Therapy Service is able to offer.  Both Outdoor Play Therapy and Animal Assisted Play Therapy can be conducted in a safe confidential private therapeutic environment, on a private farming estate, utilising a range of toys and equipment (both manufactured or natural).


How Can Play Therapy Help?

Generally speaking, Play Therapy can be effective for Primary Aged School Children (4-11 years of age), though can be appropriate for older children and adults, depending on their needs. Play Therapy can be helpful when people have experienced:

  • Adoption and Fostering
  • Attachment and trauma related difficulties
  • Abuse
  • Anxiety
  • Bereavement
  • Bullying
  • Emotional and behavioural regulation difficulties
  • Family breakdown
  • Friendship difficulties
  • Illness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Nightmares
  • Physical regulation difficulties, i.e. sleeping, eating and toileting
  • Social withdrawal

There are times when it is unhelpful to start Play Therapy. Play Therapy can give people the opportunity to explore their deepest and most traumatic feelings and experiences. As such, it is not appropriate to expose them to this if they are not in a situation whereby people around them can keep their physical body and their powerful emotions safe. It is also important to note that Play Therapy can also result in people's behaviour being more heightened away from the therapy sessions and can also result in them regressing to earlier developmental stages. It is crucial that the people around the person receiving therapy have stability in their own resources to be sensitive and support them in what could be a very challenging time. Examples of when it is not appropriate to start Play Therapy include:

  • When the person remains at risk of harm
  • When the person's support network lacks stability
  • When the person's environment is in a period of transition, i.e. moving school, house, care givers.

Play Therapy Equipment​

During indoor Play Therapy, the Play Therapist creates a comfortable, safe environment in which the person is allowed to play with as few limits as possible. This counseling space is often referred to as a playroom, and comes equipped with a selection of carefully chosen toys that are specifically selected to encourage the person to express his or her feelings and develop healthier behaviors. The person’s interactions with these toys essentially serve as the person’s symbolic words. This allows the Play Therapist to learn about specific thoughts and emotions that a person may find difficult or impossible to express verbally. This has particular relevance to fostered and adopted people who have often suffered chronic trauma and abuse before they were verbal.   There would be some variation in play kits, dependent on the age and needs of the child/adult in addition to the more natural material required for Outdoor Play Therapy.


Play Therapy Appointments

Northumberland Play & Filial Therapy Service offers both onsite and mobile Play Therapy appointments.  For those children not coming to our base, generally there would be an attempt to arrange these appointments in a location that would be least disruptive to the child's day. It can be a challenging for children to travel to and from therapy appointments; it can cause unnecessary stress. Appointments could take place in a children's centre or other community building.  Adult appointments will be arranged within a location that would be identified in negotiation with them.

Practical arrangements

Consistency is key in the development of a trusting therapeutic relationship and a safe, containing therapeutic space where the person can explore their difficulties. There will be practical agreements made to support this:

  • The appointments will be made in advance, for the same time and day of the week for each appointment
  • The same room and same play materials will be made to the person for each appointment
  • The same Play Therapist will deliver the therapy
  • Where possible, for child clients,  the same person will escort the child to and from the therapy session.

Number of sessions

The number of Play Therapy sessions that will be offered will have been identified in the Initial Assessment.  

Sharing Information

Generally, the specific details of the therapy sessions will remain confidential to the person. Parents and professionals will not be given week by week feedback and it is important that the person is not pressured into talking about what they have been doing in the sessions. This promotes the person's feelings of trust with the Play Therapist and the safety of the therapy space. 

There is one clear reason why specific details would be disclosed to other parties immediately - where there is a concern about a risk to the person or others. This exception will be made clear to the all clients, relevant family members and any relevant professional before Play Therapy commences.

The other occasion when information will be shared is during pre-agreed review meetings and any formal reports. On these occasions the general themes and progress of therapy will be discussed. Again, everyone will know about this beforehand, including the client. 



Aspects of this page have been reproduced from , with permission.

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