What is Child Life Therapy?

boy examining his teddy bear
Child Life Therapists are healthcare professionals specialising in child development, with a background in education and/or other fields of healthcare.

Child Life Therapy involves evidence-based interventions, which aim to reduce the stress and anxiety that can be associated with hospitalisation by focusing on developmental, social and emotional wellbeing.  Specifically, child life therapy services may include general ‘medical play’, which seeks to correct misconceptions and reduce anxiety around medical experiences [i];

Specific play sessions focusing on procedures and useful coping skills have shown to reduce anticipatory anxiety, distress and positively impact future procedures [ii].

Procedural support and distraction provided by a CLT can also be effective in reducing patient and parent anxiety for ongoing invasive procedures [iii].

Every day as a child life therapist is different! Our day-to-day routine could include working with children and adolescents to…

  • Provide opportunities for play and leisure, supporting continued development and wellbeing within hospital and other healthcare environments
  • Familiarise children and their families with the hospital environment through play experiences or structured orientation programs
  • Reduce anxiety around procedures and hospital admissions, through facilitating medical play and teaching children new coping strategies
  • Support children and their families during medical procedures, using techniques such as diversion and guided relaxation
  • Facilitate training and support to other healthcare professionals around child development, and best practice in supporting children’s wellbeing while in healthcare.

Our interactions with patients and their families are individualised, strengths-based, and support family-centred care.

In the USA, Canada and many other nations such professionals are referred to as Child Life Specialists; In the UK and New Zealand they are called Hospital Play Specialists. You can find out more about our international colleagues through our Useful Links page.

If you are interested in becoming a Child Life Therapist in Australia, check out our How do I Become a Child Life Therapist? page, which lists all the information you need to know.You can read what the American Academy of Pediatrics has to say about the importance of child life therapy in their 2014 Policy Statement on Child Life Services.

The National Association of Health Play Specialists (UK) has also released a fantastic report in 2014 entitled The Provision of Play in Health Service Delivery.

[i] McGrath, P. & Huff, N. (2001). “What is it?” Findings on preschoolers’ responses to play with medical equipment. Child: Care, Health and Development, 27, 451-462.

[ii] Claar, R.L., Walker, L.S., & Barnard, J.A. (2002). Children’s knowledge, anticipatory anxiety, procedural distress, and recall of esophagogastroduodenoscopy. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, 34, 68–72.

[iii] Dahlquist, L.M., Busby, S.M., Slifer, K.J., Tucker, C.L., Eischen,&nsbp;S., Hilley L., & Sulc, W. (2002). Distraction for children of different ages who undergo repeated needle sticks. Journal of Pediatric Oncology Nursing, 19, 22-34.

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