What is Play Therapy?

Play therapy is simply counselling for children.  Play is used because it is a child’s natural means of expression and communication and is the way they explore and make sense of their world.  Often, conventional talking therapies are inappropriate for children who struggle to put their feelings into words. 

Play therapy gives children the opportunity to explore and understand difficult feelings in a safe and trusting environment.  It can increase their self-esteem and confidence by enabling them to understand aspects of their past experiences.  The therapy provides them with better resilience for encountering future difficulties and encourages a more hopeful view of their world.

Central to the therapy is the relationship that the child and therapist develop;  the therapist is a completely different adult who focuses on the child for the duration of the therapy.  The child is allowed freedom of expression and can play without external learning aims or structures. Minimal boundaries are set to make the child feel safe. The therapist completely focuses on the child for 45 minutes and mostly works in a non-directive way.  When appropriate more direct counselling methods are used to label and manage the feelings and experiences of the child.   The therapy time is confidential so that the child is free to explore personal issues.  Difficult feelings and experiences can be explored through the metaphor of play using an extensive toolkit comprising sand, water, stories, music, art, role play and puppets.  The child learns to move on from trauma and can better manage strong emotions.

Who can benefit from play therapy?

Children who have experienced bereavement, family breakdown or divorce

Children who have witnessed domestic violence or been involved in any form of abuse

Children who display emotional, social or behavioural difficulties in the classroom and at home

Children in care/foster homes who may have attachment issues

And other difficulties that children aged 3-12 present with such as anxiety, learning difficulties and special needs

What happens in the room?

In the playroom, the child is presented with a safe environment in which they can choose to play or not with a range of therapeutic tools, art media and toys – such as sand, drawing and painting, clay, music, puppets, role-play and dressing up.  They are given the space to explore with as few limits as possible and as little adult direction as is necessary.  Play therapy is often messy, noisy and unpredictable!  The therapist will communicate with the child through their chosen metaphors to help them talk about their unconscious and conscious feelings and emotions.  The therapist will help them to devise strategies to cope with the difficulties that they face and those life challenges that they may not be able to change. Each session will last 45 minutes and will occur at the same time and place each week so that the child begins to feel safe in a world which may be chaotic.  There are many YouTube videos that explain play therapy and enable you to see the work in action just type in 'play therapy;'  BAPT (British Association of Play Therapists) and PTUK (Play Therapy UK) sites are particularly useful and explanatory.

Does it work?

All therapy is measured and data collected by PTUK.  Play therapy is not a miracle cure but it is an effective intervention for over 74% of children.  The more severe the presenting issue, the more children are helped. (2011 PTUK research).  1 in 5 children present with a psychological problem in school. Play therapy can be a measurable intervention for these children. Many schools find that Pupil Premium can be effectively spent on this therapy.  Every client will complete 'before' and 'after' therapy emotional questionnaires.  These give auditable effectiveness.  I have found that repeatedly children I work with have shown improvement in their emotional state after therapy has occurred.

Who am I?

My name is Libby Steel

I am a qualified play therapist with over 5 years experience.  I have worked as a primary school teacher since I qualified 20 years ago and have most recently worked in the early years sector taking a key role as a lead for vulnerable children.

Once my own children were older I was able to follow my dream of training to be a therapist, an ambition triggered after reading at University ‘Dibs In Search of  Self’  by Virginia Axline.  This book is a real encounter between a play therapist and a child and shows his incredible journey of healing through play therapy.  

Since qualifying as a therapist I have been working in local Primary and Nursery Schools helping children throughout this age range with a wide variety of presenting issues.  As well as offering individual therapy I am able to run group therapy sessions for children with similar presenting issues such as under-confidence, anxiety, or worries about transferring to secondary school.


  • BEd Hons from Goldsmith's College, London University

  • I have received accredited post-graduate training at certificate and diploma level from PTUK

  • DBS certified

  • Individually insured

  • Protected by data protection

  • Level 3 safeguarding training

  • Registered member of PTUK 

  • I receive regular supervision from an experienced registered play therapist

  • I work to the PTUK Ethical Framework

So, what happens next?

I have a dedicated quiet and confidential space within the Tavistock Therapy Centre, however, I often work within a child's school. This helps the child feel comfortable to be able to express how they're feeling. I offer a 12-week course as a minimum therapy that can be extended after review meetings.  The sessions are weekly and last 45 minutes. 

With private referrals we can arrange a free initial consultation without the child to discuss if therapy is the right step forward. Following this, we will set out our goals and discuss how best to accommodate your family schedule. 


In a school setting, the teacher/SENCO will complete an initial referral form and a Goodman’s SDQ which is an emotional indicator assessment tool and seek permission from parent/carers for the therapy to occur.  I will then score the child and if I think that therapy is an appropriate intervention, I will arrange a private meeting with the parent and child to discuss the therapeutic programme. Identical SDQs of the child's behaviour at home is completed by the parents/carers. Sometimes the child does this too, if appropriate.   Signed parental permission is always sought.   Review of the case happens at 6-8 weeks and again at the end of the therapy when further SDQ’s are completed to analyse the success of the therapy.  A therapeutic report is given to the school and recommendations are proposed.


My price also includes reports and meetings. Please inquire for more details with regard to costs.


"Libby has worked as a play therapist with children at our school for the last two years.  The impact on the children selected has been significant.  One child in year 4, who was persistently removed from class due to his unacceptable behaviour, is now settled and happy in class and catching up with his peers.  Libby has worked with 2 children at the school, who have been taken into care.  Her therapeutic work with these children has ensured they have had a safe space to work through their anxieties and difficulties, positively impacting on their ability to focus on their learning in class.  These are just a few examples of the many children that have been helped to manage their feelings and behaviour in a more effective way as a result of Libby's therapeutic input.  

Libby also builds excellent relationships with the parents of the children she works with; meeting before, during and after the course to offer feedback and advice, which parents find very useful and supportive.  I would highly recommend Libby's play therapy for those children with gaps in their social and emotional development or children experiencing traumatic or difficult events in their life."

Deputy Head of a Devon school

"Libby has provided a weekly play therapy session for the last 2 years for a very vulnerable child, during which time she has always been reliable, professional and patient. The child has built up a good rapport with her and enjoys the sessions, looking forward to the next session and pro-actively checking that he knows when it is. She provides a safe space for him where he can relax and explore issues and has given staff advice and strategies for them to use. "

School SENCO

"She is much happier and she can explain what is making her sad now so that we can help her at home"


"The play therapy that my child received really helped his confidence and enabled him to enjoy his time at school without so much anxiety."


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