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Evidence-Based Practice Statement: Play Therapy
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Hierarchy of Evidence Quality:


The research pyramid illustrates the hierarchy of evidence for any given intervention, ranking the quality of evidence from the most reliable/credible (top of pyramid) to least reliable/credible (bottom of pyramid) (Paynter, 2009). The pyramid is widely accepted as the gold standard for evaluating best practices in mental and behavioral health. This statement provides evidence regarding the effectiveness of play therapy and guidance on the practice of play therapy, evaluating the level, quality, and application of play therapy as a mental health intervention for children.


This research is meant to be shared! Please make sure to properly cite this resource, and always include the following citation when referencing any information provided on this page or in the Evidence-Based Practice Statement: Play Therapy document:


Ray, D. C, & McCullough, R. (2015; revised 2016). Evidence-based practice statement: Play

           therapy (Research report). Retrieved from Association for Play Therapy




Play Therapy: Play therapy is the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development (APT, 2015).

Systematic Reviews/Meta-Analyses: Systematic reviews provide a structured method of critically appraising findings from multiple studies involving a particular area of study or intervention. Meta-analyses statistically evaluate and integrate the findings of multiple studies involving a particular are of study or intervention. When applied to intervention research, the goal of both systematic reviews and meta-analyses is to formulate a recommendation for practice. 

Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs): RCTs are experimental research studies that employ comparison groups and randomized assignment of participants. The goal of RCTs is to provide exploration of an intervention and methodological control over variables so that outcome and treatment effect can be generalized to an identified population.

Observational Studies: Observational studies include quasi-experimental studies (research that does not employ randomization procedures), single-case experimental designs, correlational research (research that explores associations between variables), and pre-post single group studies. Observational studies employ quantitative analyses but are limited in their controls of variables; hence, they are limited in terms of generalizing causal relationships between variables. 

Case Reports: Case reports, also referred to as case studies, are reports on individual cases that provide anecdotal evidence, and can include individual quantitative data, on the use of a particular intervention.

Qualitative Studies: Qualitative research uses qualitative methods and analyses to provide rich description, perspectives, theoretical understanding, and experiences related to the use of a particular intervention.


Search Information

Databases: PsycINFO, PubMed, ERIC, Academic Search Complete

Search Terms: play therapy, play counseling, play intervention

Limits, Filters, Search Data Parameters: 2000 to present; primarily individual intervention

Date Most Recent Search: June 1, 2015


Identified Population

Children from 3 to 12 years old. Although there are studies on children thru age 18, the bulk of the published research focuses on 3 to 12 year olds.



Children between the ages of 3 to 12 years old should participate in play therapy as an intervention to alleviate symptoms related to behavioral and emotional problems, as well as contribute to overall wellness and healthy development.


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  Dee C. Ray, PhD, LPC-S, NCC, RPT-S                Rachel McCullough, MS, LPC-Intern

  Professor, Counseling Program                             Doctoral Student

  Director, Child and Family Resource Clinic               University of North Texas

  University of North Texas


  Reviewed and endorsed by the Association for Play Therapy Research Committee:


  Sinem Akay, PhD, LPC, RPT (TX)

  Sue Ammen, PhD, RPT-S (CO)

  Gustavo Barcenas, MS (TX)

  Ted Borkan, PhD, RPT-S (OH)

  Sue Bratton, PhD, LPC-S, RPT-S (TX)

  Rebeca Chow, MA, LCPC, RPT-S KS)

  Margaret Christopher, PhD, MSW, LCSW (PA)

  Kimberly Coggins, MA, PPC (WY)

  Connie Dawson-Toft, MA, LMHC, RPT-S (FL)

  Erin Dugan, PhD, LPC-S, RPT-S (LA)

  Eliana Gil, PhD, LMFT, RPT-S (FL)

  Hilda Glazer, EdD, PCC-S, RPT-S (OH)

  Elizabeth Hartwig, PhD, LPC-S, RPT-S (TX)

  Carol Hinman, PhD, LMHC, RPT-S (IA)

  Peter Hunt, PhD, RPT-S (MA)

  Leslie Jones, PhD, LPC-S, RPT (TX)

  Jennifer Lefebre-McGevna, PsyD, RPT-S (CT)

  Nesi Lillard, MA, LPC, NCC, RPT, (TX)

  Elizabeth Limberg, PhD, RPT-S (CA)

  Yung-Wei Lin (Dennis), PhD, LPC-C (NJ)

  Kristin Meany-Walen, PhD, LMHC, NCC, RPT (IA)

  Dale Elizabeth Pehrsson, EdD, C-LPC-S (MI)

  David Schatzkamer, MA, LMHC, RPT (NY)

  April Schottelkorb, PhD, LPC, NCC, RPT-S (ID)

  Janine Shelby, PhD, RPT-S (CA)

  Catherine Tucker, PhD, LMHC, RPT-S (IN)

  Patricia VanVelsor, PhD, LPC, NCC (CA)

    © 2016 Association for Play Therapy, Inc.