Is play therapy very different from being a hospital play worker? And how will my son finance his MBA programme?

A future in playtime

Q. I'm in a crisis. My life feels a bit bitty and I'm thinking about changing career. I teach art to children and English to adults. I have a sociology degree, a TEFL qualification, certificates in recreational art and childminding. But I'm thinking about going for a postgraduate play therapy qualification and perhaps becoming a play therapist. I want to do this in London, but I've heard that Roehampton isn't going to be running their programme any more. Is there anywhere else I could try? In all honesty, how different is a play therapist from a hospital play worker?

A. Play therapy is a form of psychology and children are referred by GPs and parents because they have emotional or psychological difficulties, perhaps as a result of abuse, neglect or bereavement. Play therapists also work in hospices, and may act as witnesses in court. This is a challenging profession and unlike hospital play workers, training is at the postgraduate level. You also have to undergo personal therapy as part of the training.

The reason you may have heard Roehampton isn't running their course is because there was no intake in 2004-5. This is because they are changing from diploma to masters level, and they are now recruiting for MA students. To get on to the course you need a first degree, experience with children, and personal qualities like empathy.

On the face of it, your first degree is relevant and you would probably be invited for interview. But if you're not clear what exactly a play therapist is you could take a foundation or summer course. You could also talk to someone who is in the profession - the British Association of Play Therapists ( www.bapt.uk.com) has a list of registered members.

Aside from Roehampton, the other recognised courses are run by Liverpool Hope University College, Notre Dame Centre (Strathclyde) and the University of York.

The cost of an MBA

Q. My son is thinking of applying for an MBA. He seems to think this will be a good career move, but I'm worried about finances as he already has a hefty undergraduate debt to pay off. He says there's a loan scheme for MBA students run by Nat West, but when would he have to start repaying it?

A. If your son hasn't already contacted the Association of MBAs, now would be a good time. The loan offered by NatWest is run in conjunction with the Association and only applies if they accredit the MBA in question. For accredited courses see www.mbaworld.com, which has a link to details about the NatWest loan including current rates of interest and conditions. To be eligible for this loan you also need to be a permanent UK resident, and have at least three years' work experience. Your son would have to contribute 20 per cent of the total course fees. Repayments start three months after the course is completed - regardless of whether he is earning by then or not.

MBA courses can be very expensive (up to £40,000, not counting living costs and other expenses). So the decision to enrol needs to be based on thorough research and a realistic understanding of what an MBA can and cannot do. According to the Association of MBAs, an MBA will open new doors, and graduates do see an increase in their base salary, particularly three to five years after graduation. But the immediate salary boost after graduation has decreased recently, possibly because there are now more MBA graduates.

An alternative to a NatWest loan might be the Career Development Loan run in conjunction with Barclays Bank, Co-operative Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland. Again, repayment has to begin soon after completion of study or training. See www.lifelonglearning.co.uk/cdl for details.

Some courses might offer a scholarship - and while this is rare on an MBA, it's still worth asking admissions contacts.

Please send your queries to Caitlin Davies at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail caitlind1@aol.com

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