Play therapist


Career outlook for play therapist

UK Salary Ranges





Currently employed in Scotland


Salary information is provided by the "National Careers Service". "Oxford Economics" supplies job forecasts and employment figures. Due to COVID-19 the jobs market is constantly changing. Some of the information may not reflect the current situation.

What's it like?

You would help children to make sense of difficult experiences and deal with psychological and emotional distress through play.

Play is a child's natural way of communicating. With a play therapist they can explore various issues they might find difficult to express in other ways.

You’d need to have the ability to gain children’s trust and empathise with them. You would need to be resilient; you could be working with children experiencing severe emotional pain and distress.

They may have depression, aggression or anxiety as a result of:

  • Abuse
  • Trauma
  • Neglect
  • Domestic violence
  • Family breakdown
  • Bereavement
  • Brain development problems

You would usually work with children aged between three and 11 years old. You’d see them on a one-to-one basis or in groups of up to six children.

You’d help children become better at coping with how they are feeling. They’d learn through play to understand their emotions, and gain emotional intelligence and confidence.

You would:

  • Assess the child's needs
  • Run therapy sessions at a regular time and place
  • Use toys, like puppets, cars and dolls
  • Use creative arts, including drawing, clay, sand, movement, music and therapeutic story telling
  • Develop symbolic communication with children, making a connection between the signs, symbols and actions they create in play and how these reflect their experiences
  • Nurture an in-depth therapeutic relationship, which promotes positive change in the child by helping them to help themselves

Throughout this process, you would work closely with the child's parents or carers and other professionals such as teachers, social workers and nurses.

Occasionally, you may need to attend court to give evidence, for example in a child protection or custody case.

You’d need a good understanding of child development and a respect for confidentiality.

Working conditions


You may find that many employers offer part-time hours only.


You would mainly work indoors, possibly in a specially equipped playroom or in a child's own home or school. You are likely to work in a number of different settings during your working week. Therapy sessions are usually held once a week, Monday to Friday, and take around 40 minutes.


You may visit some of the children you work with in their own homes.

UK employment status





Self employed


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  • Cooperating
  • Listening
  • Verbal communication
  • Creative
  • Empathising
  • Social conscience
  • Developing a plan
  • Taking initiative
  • Taking responsibility
  • Understanding

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Entry requirements for courses can change. Always contact the college, university or training provider to check exactly what you'll need.

Foundation Apprenticeships

Choosing a Foundation Apprenticeship as one of your subjects in S5 and S6 can help you get a head start with this type of job.

You'll get an SCQF level 6 qualification (the same level as a Higher) plus valuable work placement experience and skills you can't learn in a classroom.

Interested? Find out what's on offer at your school on


Most play therapists are already qualified and experienced social workers, teachers, or healthcare workers. Most do not practise play therapy full time, but practise it part-time alongside their other work.

You would need a relevant honours degree (SCQF level 10) normally in psychology, teaching, social work, occupational therapy, nursing or a related field plus at least two years' working with children or teenagers in therapeutic play or creative art.

This will support entry to a postgraduate qualification (SCQF level 11) in Play Therapy accredited by the British Association of Play Therapists (BAPT) or Play Therapy United Kingdom (PTUK). 

Entry to postgraduate courses (SCQF level 11) usually requires a relevant honours degree (SCQF level 10) in health, education, psychology, social or therapeutic subjects and relevant experience working with children or teenagers.

The charity With Kids and Queen Margaret University are offering a BAPT-accredited three-year taught MSc in Play Therapy, commencing in September 2016 in Glasgow. See the With Kids website for more information.

PTUK offers an accredited Certificate in Therapeutic Play Skills - the first part of a programme leading to a Masters degree in Practise Based Play Therapy - in Edinburgh and Glasgow. A Diploma in Play Therapy is also available and is the second part of a programme leading to a Masters degree in Practise Based Play Therapy.  

Useful subjects

  • English (required by most courses) 
  • Maths (required by most courses) 
  • Care
  • Science subjects
  • Social studies subjects such as psychology
  • Expressive arts subjects

You will also need

To be approved for membership of the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) Scheme run by Disclosure Scotland.