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Play Therapy after a Traumatic Life Event

We offer therapeutic play for children after a traumatic life event. Therapeutic play offers a child a safe space to express their emotions about what has happened and explore them in a healthy way.

What is play therapy?

Play is the natural expression of a child – their instinctive way of expressing themselves. Children understand and make sense of the world predominantly through play. Play therefore makes scary things safe, so that a child can explore things that feel frightening safely.

Play therapy (or therapeutic play) is a type of creative counselling aimed at 4 to 13-year-old children. In the play therapy room, we create a space for their instinctive way of expressing themselves – play – so that they can explore their thoughts and feelings in creative ways, without needing to use words to communicate. The therapist joins their play and reflects on the play a child is engaging in, as a way of revealing to the child what they are expressing.

How does therapeutic play help children after a traumatic life event?

After a traumatic life event, many children struggle to process what they’re feeling in a safe way. You  might be seeing big behaviours at home, such as temper tantrums or shouting. They may become violent or very tearful. They may revert to the behaviours of a much younger child. This can all be very overwhelming, especially if the family are all affected by the event.

Therapeutic play with a qualified professional creates a safe space for children to express their emotions in a healthy way. As they explore their emotions through play, they learn how to identify what’s happening in their bodies when they feel those things. Over time, we develop tools together to work through their emotions more safely so that they don’t explode with them.

Traumatic life events include any difficult event that’s happened in a child’s life. Examples would be:

  • Bereavement of a close family member or friend

  • Parental separation

  • Friendship breakdown and difficulties

  • A sudden move or relocation

What does play therapy look like?

We use non-directive, child-centred therapeutic play in the therapy room. In other words, we create a safe space for the child and allow them to choose how to express themselves. The therapist joins in with the child’s play, following their lead.

All our therapeutic play follows eight principles from eminent play therapist Virginia Axline:

  1. We develop a warm, friendly relationship with the child.

  2. We unconditionally accept the child as they are.

  3. We create a space where the child has permission to play as they wish and express themselves freely.

  4. We recognise the feelings a child is expressing through play.

  5. We respect a child’s ability to solve problems for themselves.

  6. We don’t direct a child’s actions. This is a space where they are in control and free to make choices.

  7. We don’t hurry therapy; we go at the child’s pace.

  8. We establish only the necessary boundaries for keeping a child safe in the room. There are no other rules to limit play.

Following these principles, we're able to connect with and support your child as they process their world through play. 

Our therapeutic play sessions are 45 minutes long.

What might my child do in the play therapy room?

We give the child free choice for their play. Play opportunities might include things like:

  • Drawing

  • Painting

  • Clay

  • Sand tray with people, animals and objects

  • Role play equipment such as dressing up clothes

  • Dolls house

  • Musical instruments

  • Puppets

  • Games

  • Movement based play

What happens to the things my child creates during play therapy?

We create a process box for every child. This gathers together anything they have created during their therapeutic play sessions. The child is also free to take home anything they have created during therapy.

As a part of ending therapeutic play, the child is given their process box to take home if they want to.

How does confidentiality work in play therapy?

The therapeutic play space is a confidential space. This means that we won’t share details about what a child has said or how they have played during their session (unless a safeguarding issue comes to light). However, we will happily talk to you about the themes being explored with your child through play.

We always explain to a child that the play space is confidential, but that they are free to share about what happens during their therapeutic play sessions if they want to. Your child therefore may choose to talk to you about what happened during therapy, but they also may not. It's important to let them make choices about what they communicate.

We will remain in regular touch with you about your child’s journey. At the initial assessment, we will discuss your goals for the therapy. We will also do a half-hour interim review with you. At the end of the child’s therapy, there’s a final call to discuss the progress made. You will also receive a report about your child’s journey.

What's the difference between play therapy and therapeutic play?

In the therapy room, there is very little difference between play therapy and therapeutic play. It’s more about whether a therapist is qualified to meet the complexity of the child’s needs. 

A play therapist has a post-graduate diploma in play therapy; a therapeutic play practitioner has a post-graduate certificate. The different qualification level means that therapeutic play practitioners are unable to see children who are experiencing complex life situations. This includes:

  • Children from families with a social worker

  • Fostered, adopted or looked-after children

  • Children who have experienced significant multiple traumas


Hannah, our therapeutic play practitioner, is currently studying for her post-graduate diploma in play therapy. She always assesses children before beginning therapeutic play, to ensure that she is an appropriate choice for your child’s needs.


If you’re unsure, please fill in our referral form. Hannah will arrange a free, 15-minute assessment to make sure therapeutic play is the right fit for your child.

Therapeutic Play
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