As a Registered Play Therapist, I’m obviously a big fan of play therapy, but one of the main questions parents ask me is, “Could play therapy by telehealth be just as good as play therapy in person?”
In this article, I will go through the pros and cons of play therapy via telehealth and provide some research examples in this field.
Accessibility: many parents don’t have access to registered play therapists in their town or struggle to find appointments locally. Accessing quality and consistent play therapy by telehealth increases the accessibility of play therapy for children and families, providing valuable treatment for mental health.
Convenience: play therapy via telehealth eliminates the need to travel to the therapy session. This can be particularly beneficial for families with multiple children or work schedules that do not allow therapy attendance during usual office hours. Accessing play therapy via telehealth will enable parents to utilise the time the child is in the telehealth appointment to care for other children, catch up on work or attend to other things at home. Convenient play therapy appointments make it much easier for families to be consistent with therapy attendance, which would ultimately increase the therapy benefits.
Engagement: Since COVID-19play, therapy via telehealth has come a long way. I’ve included an example of my playroom below. The images within my playroom are hyperlinked to virtual activities such as the doll house or the sand tray. Because children are within their familiar environment at home, accessing play therapy via telehealth can increase overall engagement.
Family involvement: Unlike in clinic play therapy appointments where the child is present in the room, play therapy via telehealth allows parents to be more involved in the therapy process. For example, the therapist might use a portion of the therapy time to work with a parent on strategies within the home, and the child may be in their room. Ultimately increasing family involvement will help the transferability of therapeutic skills from therapy to other environments such as home and school.
Privacy: Just as an in-person play therapy session would be structured, parents generally are not in the room, which gives children a chance to explore their thoughts, feelings and behaviours in a safe therapeutic space. Children must still be able to access this privacy when participating in play therapy via telehealth. There are ways that this can be achieved, such as headphones for children or a private space within the home.
Technology issues: If you live in a remote location with an unstable Internet connection or do not have access to a laptop or computer, this makes accessing play therapy sessions via telehealth difficult. If you are in this situation, it may be worth discussing it with your child’s school. There may be an opportunity for teachers or education assistants to facilitate play therapy via telehealth utilising their resources. Ultimately a child accessing mental health treatment via telehealth would benefit their ability to learn within the school environment; therefore, many teachers and schools would likely be willing to help facilitate this.
What does the research say?
Emerging evidence suggests that play therapy in person is not superior to play therapy via telehealth. Play Therapy via telehealth is an effective mental health treatment for children.
A literature view by Pignotti et al. (2020) identified that in comparison to play therapy in person, play therapy via telehealth was just as effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression and behavioural issues in children.
A study by Mathiasen et al. (2021) examined the effectiveness of play therapy via telehealth for children who had experienced trauma. The results indicated significant improvements in the children’s emotional and behavioural issues.
Ultimately, it is vital that children can access quality and consistent play therapy, and telehealth allows this to occur in situations where it would have usually been inaccessible. If you are considering play therapy via telehealth, please feel free to book a session online.
Mathiasen, H., Milne, D. L., Olsson, C. A., & Schjødt, T. (2021). Evaluating play therapy outcomes with the therapeutic play rating scale. International Journal of Play Therapy, 30(2), 69-79. doi: 10.1037/pla0000120
Pignotti, M., Acciai, C., Sisti, M., & Martini, L. (2020). The effectiveness of play therapy for children facing various psychological challenges: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 29(4), 1037-1053. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-019-01605-3
Author: Dr Sam Casey