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The different uses of play to alleviate children's problems

Most of us understand that play is good for us – that it has a therapeutic value. It helps children of all ages, gender and cultures to learn, communicate and develop their personalities.

Neuroscience research shows that more brain centres light up in response to metaphor than any other form of human communication forming new neural pathways. (Levin, F 1997 and Modell , A.H 1997). Symbolic / fantasy play with its use of metaphors provides new experiences that develops the brain/mind. Similarly creative arts therapies help in the same way. They are also used to unlock children's potential and make sense of their life experiences. The child can express their feelings without having to use words.

Play & Play Work – All children should be encouraged to play frequently and spontaneously purely for their enjoyment with no other objective. Play work is used in nurseries, play schemes or primary schools to help children to learn or as in a play scheme to provide a safe environment for a child when the parent/carer(s) are absent. As a bonus there will be a therapeutic or child development benefit. Play Workers are not Play Therapists.

Therapeutic Play improves the emotional well being / emotional literacy of the child. It may be used to alleviate a mild, one off emotional, behaviour or psychological problem that is preventing the child from functioning normally. Therapeutic play is often used to prevent a minor problem becoming worse. Practitioners of therapeutic play may be other professionals such as teaching staff, nurses, social workers, care workers etc who have received adequate training, such as a 'Certificate in Therapeutic Play Skills' accredited by Play Therapy International. They also need to receive regular clinical supervision and use clinical governance procedures to manage the quality of their work.

Play Therapy uses a variety of play and creative arts methods - the 'Play Therapy Tool Kit (TM)' - to address chronic, mild and moderate psychological and emotional conditions in children that are causing behavioural problems. The Play Therapist forms a short to medium term therapeutic relationship and often works with the child’s peers, siblings, family, school etc as well. A Play Therapist is required to have successfully completed a Diploma level course such as one accredited by Play Therapy International, as well as receiving regular clinical supervision and use clinical governance procedures to manage the quality of their work. A PTI Certified Play Therapist will have more skills and experience in using play and expressive arts therapies than a practitioner of therapeutic play.

Filial Play is a relatively recent applications that uses play to help infants under the age of 3 as well as children up to the age of 14, in their mental and emotional development which for some reason, such as attachment issues, may be impaired. It is also designed to improve parent/child relationships.

The term ‘Filial therapy’ is also used which entails providing parents/carers with basic play therapy skills to use at home, However there are ethical issues to be considered as well as the pressure being put on parents to carry out 'therapy'. The preferred PTI approach is to provide coaching/mentoring for parents/carers in nurturing skills and how to play non-directively with their children. PTI has recently accredited the APAC 'Filial Play Coaching Skills Certificate' course.

Child psychotherapy, clinical psychology and psychiatry address more severe mental health and personality problems. Practitioners in these fields may use therapeutic play in addition to ‘talking therapies’ and possibly, in the case of psychiatry, medication. Support may be provided by a Play Therapist working in a multi-agency team.

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