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Play Therapy

What is Therapeutic Play Therapy?

“Does your child struggle emotionally?”

“Does your child have behavioural problems?”,

“Do you feel like you don’t know what to do with your child anymore?

“Birds Fly, fish swim, children play”

Gary Landreth (Play Therapy Art of the Relationship)

Therapeutic Play Therapy (otherwise knows as Play Therapy or Play-based counselling) bases its philosophy on understanding the importance and power of play. It uses therapeutic play as a means to help children express their thoughts and emotions, resolve psychological challenges, and develop healthier coping mechanisms. Through play therapy, children can explore their feelings, thoughts, and experiences in a safe and supportive environment.


Play Therapy in Goonellabah near Lismore

The Spherical Counselling Play Therapy rooms are at Suite 4/1 Gum Tree Drive, Goonellabah, NSW, 2480.


Toni Steenson, provides play-based counselling services based on Therapeutic Play Therapy theories (including sand play, art therapy, synergistic play therapy, and child-centered play therapy for children aged 2-12 years old. These services are available to children in the Northern Rivers regions, encompassing Lismore, Goonellabah, Wollongbar, Alstonville, Byron Bay, Evans Head, and Ballina.


How to book

To get a sense of whether play-based counselling is for you and your family, you can call Toni to receive a complimentary 15-minute consult. If Toni can’t answer the phone, be sure to leave a message so she can call you back.


Phone 0466 629 424

Or contact Toni via email and she will organise a time to call you.

How Play Therapy works

Children understand their worldviews through play. Play interventions help practitioners understand children's thought behaviours, feelings, and perspectives. Play therapy relies on a child's play rather than verbal responses as the medium of communication, meaning children use play to communicate what they are experiencing.


Self-initiated and spontaneous play always helps children express themselves more thoroughly and directly than through verbal communication, as children are comfortable in play. As children play out their experiences, self-healing occurs. Healing occurs during child's play because play is their natural way to express feelings and emotions. Play is the child's language.


When we ask a child to communicate verbally, we ask them to enter their mind. Children live in the present and experience the world through movement/play. To fully understand children, we need to listen to how they communicate what they're experiencing. When a therapist understands play's symbolism, they know what the child is experiencing and telling them through their play. Once the child expresses what they're feeling through play and the therapist sees and reflects the feelings and emotions they are observing, the child is supported to let go of what was causing a conflict within them. Through therapeutic play therapy, which includes role play, children learn how to modulate their behaviour and gain greater insight into how their behaviour impacts others. While the child is physically experiencing other roles through play, the therapist is reflecting on what they are observing; the child learns how to match the emotions they are experiencing to their actual experience in their play and what they are feeling in their bodies. Hence, play therapy also supports children to learn how to regulate their emotions and behaviours.

The History of Therapeutic Play Therapy

Play therapy has roots in the work of psychoanalysts such as Melanie Klein and Anna Freud, who recognised the importance of play in understanding and addressing children's emotional struggles. However, the modern concept of play therapy was developed and popularised by Virginia Axline, a renowned child psychologist. Axline's seminal work, "Dibs: In Search of Self," highlighted the transformative power of play therapy in helping children overcome emotional difficulties.

Gary Landry, a prominent figure in the field of play therapy who some see as the founder of modern play therapy, made significant contributions to the development and advancement of play therapy techniques. Landry's innovative approaches, such as incorporating storytelling and creative arts into play therapy sessions, have helped enhance the effectiveness of play therapy in addressing a wide range of emotional and behavioural issues in children.

Landry's emphasis on building a strong therapeutic relationship with the child and creating a safe and nurturing environment has been instrumental in promoting healing and growth. His work has inspired many therapists to adopt a more holistic and child-centred approach to play therapy, ensuring that each child's unique needs and strengths are recognised and supported.

How Healing Occurs

In play therapy, a therapist communicates with children on their level. The therapist understands that the child is expressing themselves symbolically. They may be playing in the sand, burying a character, symbolically representing them burying their emotions and feelings. It's not until age 11 that a child is developmentally able to engage in abstract reasoning or thinking, yet through play, they can express everything they're feeling without having to have the adult language of doing so. In the playroom, the therapist reflects verbally to the child what they're observing the child do, and the child responds by feeling heard and seen. As the child continues playing and the therapist continues verbally reflecting, the child becomes their own healer, playing out their unresolved issues and hurts. In conjunction with the therapist's reflections, the play offers the child the space and understanding of what they're feeling so they can let go.

What is the process...

The process of starting child play-based counselling involves the first intake session, which is just for the parents, and it is best for both parents to be present. The session is a double session and generally takes between 75-100 minutes. This session involves getting a full history of the child's pre-conception to the current day and is very thorough. For the therapist to fully understand the child and their needs it is important for parent to be open and frank during the parent intake session. Toni also gets the parents to talk about why they are reaching out for therapy and gets an understanding of what issues they are experiencing. The parent is given a questionnaire to fill out and return.


The next session is a child intake session, which lasts for approximately 30-50 minutes. This is where Toni and the child meet and do some introductory activities for Toni to gain an understanding of how the child feels about different aspects of their life. The child play-based counselling starts. The child attends weekly session on the same day and time every week, keeping things consistent and know for the child is very important during this process. Toni does not chat with the parents at drop-off and pick-up but rather greets and says goodbye to the child. As the child is the client and Toni is morally bound to hold the information from their sessions confidential she will not generally go into specifics of what is playing out in the play room with the parent.


Toni holds check-in sessions with the parents once every 4-6 weeks so the parents can update Toni on any behavioural or emotional challenges that are arise or changing. Toni will update the parents on where the child is at generally and may discuss themes of play without going into specifics with the parents. There is no clear guide to suggest how long the therapy will last as this largely depends on each individual child, it can take 6-12 months or may be longer or shorter than this.


Frequently Asked Questions

How does Play-based counselling/Therapy work?

Therapeutic play works through Toni, providing a variety of toys, games, and art materials that allow children to engage in play activities. By observing the child's play behaviours and interactions with the materials, Toni can gain insights into the child's inner world, emotions, and struggles. Through guided play sessions, Toni supports the children in processing their experiences, developing problem-solving skills, and building self-confidence. Therapeutic play aims to reestablish a child’s sense of security and confidence in the world.

Is play-based Counselling similar to Play Therapy?

Play-based counselling is very similar to play therapy as it is based on the same modalities and theories. Play-based therapy is a little more flexible in it’s delivery meaning if the therapist observes the child may benefit from some more traditional child counselling methods there is the flexibility to introduce these as needed.

What types of problems does play therapy/counselling address?

Play therapy/counselling is a form of therapy that is particularly effective for addressing a wide range of problems in both children and families. It can help with the following:

  1. Healing children's distress

  2. Bringing family communication patterns to light

  3. Helping children and families discover new problem-solving techniques and strategies.

  4. Lessening the effects of trauma and loss

  5. Reducing anxiety and depression

  6. Improving behaviour

  7. Addressing social and academic difficulties

  8. Strengthening family relationships

Play-based counselling is designed to help children express their emotions, improve communication, and develop coping skills through the use of play and various creative media. It is also effective in strengthening emotional bonds within families and creating harmonious living environments.

How long does play therapy last?

Therapeutic play is typically conducted weekly, and many therapists consider six months as a standard minimum for significant and lasting improvement. Toni has found the length of time therapeutic play is required varies substantially between children and families. For play-based counselling to work, the parents must be involved and committed to the process. If appointments are attended irregularly, this works against the child and hinders any steps the child is making in their therapy.


What should parents expect during play therapy sessions?

Parent can expect the play sessions to be totally child focused. From the greeting when the parent and child arrive to the farewell at the end of the session. On arrival Toni generally greats the child and askes them to come into the play room to play with her. Depending on the child the first several session may involve the parent being a quiet observer. If the child is ready to enter the playroom without the parent, the child and Toni will enter the playroom together and come out once the session is complete.

What role do parents play in therapeutic play?

Parents play a very important role in child-based counselling. The parent involvement in the process is important to establish a parent-therapist alliance. This involvement enables a greater chance of helping the child with their presenting issues and helps the therapist better assess what is happening for the child at home and within the family. Including parents in play therapy also helps the parents become invested in the play therapy process so the child can be helped. One model for including parents in play therapy is filial therapy (this is generally introduced at the end of the therapeutic process, so parents can continue to use these skills in their home once therapy is complete).

Parents are considered to be the most important allies in the therapeutic play process, and their value of play-based counselling can influence their child's perception and experience of therapy. Children see their parents as role models and expect them to practice what they preach, making parental involvement a crucial aspect of play therapy for children.

Is play therapy suitable for children of all ages?


Toni has found the ages best suited to play therapy are 2-12 years old as a rough guide. Some older children can also benefit from therapeutic play. It really is evaluated on a case by case bases.

What are the different modalities of Play Therapy?


The different schools of thought and modalities of play therapy include:

  1. Psychodynamic Play Therapy:

  • Stemming from Freud, Erikson, Klein, and Lowenfeld.

  • Focuses on the personality of the child and the interpretation of drives.

  • Includes Psychoanalytic, Jungian, Adlerian, and Release Play Therapy.

  1. Humanistic Play Therapy:

  • Based on the works of Maslow, Rogers, Axline, Landreth, Virginia Ryan, and Gestalt theorists such as Violet Oaklander.

  • Interested in how the child views themselves and their experiences.

  • Emphasizes the importance of self-perception and personal growth.

  1. Systemic Theory Play Therapy:

  • Includes modalities such as Child-Centered Play Therapy, Filial Therapy, Gestalt Play Therapy, Experiential Play Therapy, Family Play Therapy, Group Play Therapy, and Ecosystemic Play Therapy.

  1. Person-Centered Therapy:

  • Based on person-centered theory upon which Child-Centered Play Therapy is based.

  • Emphasizes that each person's perception of experience represents reality for that individual.

  • Focuses on the child's relationships with others and the environment, and the influence of these relationships on the child's self-perception and behavior.

  • Highlights the importance of providing a facilitative relationship and environment for the child to move toward self-enhancing ways of being.

What modalities of Play Therapy does Toni Steenson use in her play-based counselling?


Child-Centred Play Therapy


Child-centered play therapy is grounded in a developmental approach that prioritises understanding children from their perspective and is non-directive. This method emphasises the importance of being present with the child, rather than focusing on a set of predetermined techniques. The essence of child-centred play therapy lies not in the procedures or tools used, but in the nurturing of a therapeutic relationship.

The core belief of the child-centred play therapy (CCPT) philosophy is that children possess an innate capacity for healing, growth, and transformation, given the right conditions where their positive attributes can thrive. The therapist's role is to foster an environment of trust, acceptance, and empathy, allowing the child to guide the pace and direction of therapy.

In CCPT, the therapist commits to seeing the world through the child's eyes, gaining insight into the child's self-perception and life experiences. Through this empathetic connection, children's perceptions can evolve, fostering their journey towards self-actualisation—the realisation of their personal potential.

Toni’s main goal is to cultivate a relationship and setting that supports the child's developmental progression. This commitment to the child's well-being is the foundation of the therapeutic process. The non-directive stance of the therapist in CCPT is critical, as it encourages the child's independence and self-reliance without steering the course of therapy.

Non-Directive and Directive Therapeutic Play

Play therapy can be either non-directive or directive. Non-directive play therapy is based on the idea that giving children optimal therapeutic conditions and the freedom to play will allow them to resolve their issues independently. This approach is seen as non-intrusive because the therapist provides minimal instruction on how the child should engage in play. On the other hand, directive play therapy involves more input from the therapist and is founded on the belief that it can be of greater support if the child has traumatic experiences that are not coming to the surface in play in non-directive play therapy sessions.

What qualifications does Toni have?


Toni Steenson has completed a degree in Psychological Science with a minor in Aboriginal studies from the University of South Australia and a major in Psychology at Swinburne. Toni completed her forth year Psychology Studies through the University of Adelaide receiving first class honors. Toni furthered her studies by completing The Crisis Support Skill Set Certificate through Lifeline Australia. Toni has also completed Level 1 and Level 2 Training in Gottman Method Couples Therapy, and she uses Gottman Method Couples Therapy in her work. Toni has also completed a couple of Play Therapy courses from the Queensland Institute of Play Therapy. She is consistently upgrading her skills in the counselling arena.

Toni Steenson

How to book

To get a sense of whether counselling is for you, you can call Toni to receive a complimentary 15-minute consult. If Toni can’t answer the phone, be sure to leave a message so she can call you back.


Phone 0466 629 424

Or contact Toni via email and she will organise a time to call you.

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