Recently there has been an increase in online Play Therapy, Art Therapy and Dramatherapy courses cropping up that are delivered through online training platforms for as little as £49 upwards.

This seems like a brilliant deal to learn some Play & Creative Arts Therapy techniques that can be used with children. What’s not to like about the promise of a cheap, DIY course that promises to enable you to provide ‘therapy’ to vulnerable children?

If it seems too good to be true, that’s because it is!

For those of us working in the therapy profession, seeing courses like this advertised is extremely worrying and frustrating. Qualified Play & Creative Arts Therapists have studied for a minimum of 2 years at postgraduate level (or if you’re anything like me, are still studying 7 years later) and have invested a lot of time and money into becoming a qualified therapist, because it’s what we believe in. It is not something that you can learn online.

The reason you cannot qualify as a therapist online is that some of the concepts, although intellectually simple to understand, are far more difficult to integrate in practice. This is because each and every one of us has our own experience of childhood that we have to understand, on a deep level, before we can start working with children in therapy. During therapy training, therapists will usually undergo in depth personal therapy to help them understand their own emotional triggers from childhood, so that they can recognise this in the context of therapy. For example, in my own experience I was bereaved as a child, so when I work with a bereaved child there are all sorts of feeling that surface for me that can be painful. If I’m not fully aware of this, I could project my feelings onto the child. This would do more harm than good to the child’s therapeutic process.

Not only is this exploration done in personal therapy, but it is also done in therapy training. Though theory is covered in depth, there is also a lot of experiential work to help trainees understand just how powerful the mediums of Play & Creative Arts are in healing emotional wounds. Until a person has experienced this for themselves, they are not in the position to understand the unmet needs of the most vulnerable children.

This is not to say that you cannot learn from the online courses. There should be good amounts of theory and some helpful tips that can be picked up. But you cannot practice as a Play & Creative Arts Therapist without having the proper training. In addition to this, practitioners also need to have a minimum of 1.5 hours of clinical supervision per month with a suitably qualified senior therapist to make sure that their practise is safe. Therapists need to hold a membership to a governing body (such as BAPT, PTUK or BACP) to ensure they are practicing ethically, plus they need to be covered by their own insurance policy. Working outside of these boundaries is not acceptable and it is not safe. In no uncertain terms, you  could be doing more harm than good if you are not qualified to do the work.

Part of the challenge is that there’s a lack of education around what Play & Creative Arts Therapies are. Sometimes people can think children are ‘just playing’ or ‘just having a nice time’. As qualified and skilled therapists you know that this is rarely the case. In every interaction in therapy there is a wealth of emotion, of experience and sometimes of trauma that needs to be understood. Play is a child’s natural language and therefore we need to be experienced and qualified to understand what this means for each individual.

However, you should never pass up the opportunity to play with a child if you can! They need play, and when this is done within a caring and kind context with an adult they trust, it can bring about significant emotional benefits. It just shouldn’t be called ‘therapy’ if the person delivering it is not a qualified therapist.

If you’re really interested in training as a Play Therapist why not join one of PTUK’s Introduction to Play Therapy days? It will cost you around the same as an online course, but you will get a real taster of what Play Therapy is all about.

Alternatively, if you’re interested in learning some skills from therapists, why not attend one of our Space to Shine training events? This one day course will teach ethical approaches to children’s mental health, without you needing to be a qualified therapist. There is so much that can be done outside of the therapy room by people who are naturally compassionate, empathic and caring. We provide essential skills which can be practiced safely AND have the maximum impact on the lives of the children in your care. Our next course is April 20th at Clear Sky’s Head Office in Little Wittenham. Click here to book.