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A day in the life of a Play Therapist

Following the day of a play therapist at I Choose Freedom


As I enter the access code into the door of the refuge, I realise I’ve been working here for over 5 years now. A domestic abuse survivor myself, I never could have imagined I’d one day be helping families re-build a life free from abuse.

I qualified as a Play Therapist and Filial Therapist whilst on my own journey to freedom. I greet the kids and their mums and head to my office - the ‘playroom’. Our refuge isn’t the dingy, dark place people expect; it’s cheerful, cozy and homely. Our team work hard to make sure our 11 women and up to 24 children are comfortable. The walls are plastered with the children’s artwork and creations. Despite all the grief and trauma, it’s a positive place to be.


I hold a crèche for some of the children while the mums are in a weekly house meeting. At the moment, our youngest child is two-months and the eldest 14. We play with Lego, play-dough, musical instruments and the children enjoy dressing up as their favourite story characters! I need a chocolate bar after being 8 children’s entertainment for the last hour…


A huge part of my role is trying to secure funding to keep the refuge open. Since 2010, one in six refuges have closed. Whenever we have a spare room, we’re inundated - the first person who calls will get the accommodation.  Every day, around 100 women in the UK are turned away due to lack of space.

I spend hours writing reports to ensure we keep grants. As a therapist, I assess each child’s needs and log scores before and after receiving therapy to show how far they’ve come. This vital data shows what a difference we’re making.


The team here are delighted when a former client pops in for a cup of tea with her 2 boys. She’s barely recognisable from the woman who arrived at the refuge two years ago fleeing severe domestic abuse. Newly qualified as a beauty therapist, it’s amazing to see how far she has come. It’s incredibly rewarding to know I played a part.


It’s time to set up for the Play therapy sessions I have this evening so out come the art materials, sand, puppets, clay, musical instruments and other creative mediums that are used to help children express, process and make sense of the trauma that they have experienced.


There is a knock on the playroom door from a mum residing here. Fred (child’s name has been changed for confidentiality reasons) has just urinated in her handbag. He has soiled himself and is now shouting at her to clean him up. This 3-year-old child believes that men are more powerful than women and that the role of a woman is to clean.  When this child demands that his mum stands up so that he can sit on the chair, she does. I go upstairs to the family’s room and help the mum put appropriate strategies in place to deal with the challenging behaviour. I role model for mum different techniques whilst reminding her of the importance of boundaries and consistency in shaping behaviour. We are constantly striving to empower the women as parents.


I am back in the playroom for my first therapy session of the day. The child I am working alongside has witnessed his dad physically abusing his mum. He picks up two large puppet heads and makes them fight. This is a safe space for this child to deal with his difficult feelings.

Every therapy session is different, as is each child who sadly must come into refuge. I’ve seen children and young people who are withdrawn, truanting from school, with low self-esteem, who are self-harming, experiencing night terrors or wetting the bed. Every child is affected differently. It’s heart-breaking witnessing children suffer but their strength never ceases to amaze me.


It’s time for a family bonding session, today we are playing the shopping trolley game. I role model positive praise whilst watching the family smile and laugh together. Our aim is to strengthen fractured bonds between families and having fun together is a great way of achieving this.


After wishing everyone goodnight, this takes a while with 24 children following you around, I head home with a smile on my face thinking It’s a privilege to work with such amazing children. Their ability to smile even in the most difficult of time inspires me to get up the next day for round two.

Emma Armstrong

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