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Child Life Therapy – The A To Z Of Allied Health

In this week’s edition of The A to Z of Allied Health, we focus on child life therapy. We’ll cover what a child life therapist does, the areas in which they work, their educational requirements, and the regulatory frameworks that govern them.


What does a child life therapist do?

Child life therapists (also referred to as child life specialists) work with babies, children and adolescents experiencing hospitalisation or healthcare interventions to reduce the stress and anxiety that can arise and improve their healthcare experience.

Working in multidisciplinary teams, they use their educational framework to assess a child’s needs and then use evidence-based strategies to address them.

They take a family-centred approach, guiding the delivery of a program that addresses the specific emotional, developmental, and cultural needs of each child and their family.

Examples of interventions include

  • Procedure education
  • Medical play
  • Facilitating distraction and coping
  • Developmentally appropriate play and self-expression activities.

Child life therapists may also provide education and support to hospital staff regarding the needs of children in the health care  context.


What personal qualities are useful for child life therapy?

You firstly should be an outgoing and empathetic person. The families you’ll be dealing with will be looking to you to reduce their stress.

This specialism is ideally to a creative individual with the patience and sensitivity to be able to work closely with both adults and children.

  • Ability to listen and work closely with adults and children.
  • Self-awareness
  • Spontaneity
  • Independence
  • Flexibility.


Where do child life therapists/specialists work?

Child life therapists typically work in hospitals, but more recently they have begun working in non-health settings such as camps, early intervention programs, courtrooms and dental practices.

Child life therapists work in countries including Australia, the USA, Canada, the UK and New Zealand. In the UK and New Zealand, they are called Healthcare or Hospital Play Specialists.


How do I become a child life therapist?

In Australia and New Zealand, there is no single qualification required to fill the child life therapist/specialist role, and training programs and standards vary according to employers.

In the USA and Canada, the education and training requirements are more specific and include any bachelor level degree, followed by an endorsed Association of Child Life Professionals academic program.

In the UK, Healthcare Play Specialists are required to have a foundation degree in Healthcare Play Specialism which is an apprenticeship-style education and training program.


Professional and regulatory frameworks

In Australia and New Zealand, child life therapists are not a registered health profession under national registration schemes. The Association of Child Life Therapists Australia (ACLTA) and the Hospital Play Specialist Registration Council (New Zealand) provide self-regulation for the profession.

Similarly, in the UK, Health Play Specialists are self-regulated and professional registration for Health Play Specialists is optional yet regarded as essential by most NHS employers. In the USA and Canada, there is a rigorous process for certification via the Certified Child Life Certification Commission, a subsidiary of the Association of Child Life Professionals.


Workforce considerations

Child Health Therapy/Specialism is a small and emerging profession in some parts of the world (e.g., Australia) where funding for child life therapists is tenuous and roles insecure. Whereas in other countries, like the USA, the profession has a longer history and is expanding the settings in which Child Health Specialist work.


Find out more about child life therapy

Here are some links to websites and resources for and about Child Health Therapists:


If you have questions about the child life therapy profession, or if you wish to share your experiences as a child life therapist, please leave a comment below.

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If you offer professional development or business support services for child life therapists or their employers, please list your business on our Service Directory.

AHP Workforce provides child life therapist workforce planning, strategy and consulting for employers, managers and public sector stakeholders. For allied health workforce solutions, contact us today.

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