What is Play Therapy?
“Play is the child’s language, and toys are the child’s words.” (Dr. Garry L. Landreth, Director Emeritus of the Association for Play Therapy)
Play is a child’s natural language and medium of self-expression. Children are not able to verbally express and process their experiences and emotions like adults do because their cognitive abilities and verbal skills are still developing. Just as adults in counselling and therapy “talk out” their difficulties, children “play out” their feelings, thoughts and problems. A trained play therapist uses play therapeutically to help children express and work through their difficult emotions and challenges, develop coping strategies, and find solutions to problems.
Understanding Play Therapy
“Play is the child’s language, and toys are the child’s words.” – Dr. Garry L. Landreth, Director Emeritus of the Association for Play Therapy.
Through play, children develop a healthy attachment to their caregivers, explore and experience the world around them, and learn important life skills. We have known of the power of play for centuries, as Plato stated, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” Recent advancement in neuroscience reveals that play is essential for brain development, as it creates new neural pathways for social and emotional skills.
Why Play Therapy?
Play Therapy capitalizes on the innate language of children—play—to facilitate self-expression and emotional exploration. Due to developing cognitive abilities and verbal skills, children often struggle to articulate their experiences and feelings verbally as adults do. In the same way that adults engage in therapeutic conversations, children use play to process emotions, thoughts, and challenges. While play in and of itself is therapeutic, play therapy differs from play therapy in that a trained play therapist utilizes the therapeutic power of play to enable children to navigate complex emotions, cultivate coping mechanisms, and devise solutions to difficulties.
Types of Play Therapy
Although there are many different types and models of play therapy, there are mainly two approaches to play therapy: directive and non-directive.
In directive play therapy, the therapist chooses toys and activities and uses specific interventions to meet the client goals. Directive play therapy is highly structured as the therapist leads the therapy sessions.
In non-directive play therapy, the therapist allows the child to take the lead and gives them enough room to play out their internal experiences. Non-directive play therapy is child-centered, where the therapist observes the child’s play and provides safety and understanding.
– The therapist strives to establish a trusting relationship with the child, as it is the foundation for effective therapy.
– The therapist utilizes the therapeutic powers of play.
– The therapist carefully selects the toys to give the child a wide range of choices for self-expression and processing of their internal struggles.
– Parents’ involvement in therapy process is essential.
Parents play an important role
A play therapist may meet with a child individually. However, parental involvement is essential for successful therapy for children. A play therapist may meet with the parents for parent consultation sessions, ask them to join sessions, and/or ask them to do certain activities with their child at home between sessions. The therapist may also decide to include the whole family and conduct family sessions, depending on the needs of the child and the family.
Structured Play Therapy (SPT)
Structured Play Therapy (SPT) stands as a nurturing avenue that harnesses play to aid children in expressing emotions and addressing challenges. Within SPT, therapists curate a secure environment, replete with thoughtfully selected toys and activities. These tools are thoughtfully designed to guide children in addressing specific emotions or issues. With gentle guidance, therapists accompany children through these play sessions, meticulously deciphering their emotions and reactions. The structured aspect of SPT provides a comforting routine, allowing children to explore their emotions at their own pace. This approach is particularly suited for children who struggle with verbal expression. Through play, they acquire emotional resilience and coping skills. It’s imperative to recognize that SPT is one among several strategies that use play as a medium for children’s healing and growth.
While a play therapist may engage with a child individually, parental engagement is pivotal for effective therapy. Parent consultation sessions, joint sessions, and at-home activities may be incorporated to enhance therapeutic outcomes. Depending on the child’s and family’s needs, family sessions may also be integrated into the process.
Beneficiaries of Play Therapy
Play therapy is universally applicable, with particular efficacy among children aged 3 to 12 who grapple with an array of socio-emotional and behavioral challenges. These encompass areas such as bullying, grief, parental divorce, trauma, anxiety, depression, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, academic and social difficulties, learning disabilities, and conduct disorders.
For further insights into play therapy, Dr. Dee C. Ray, Director of the Center for Play Therapy at the University of North Texas, has thoughtfully created informative videos tailored to both children and parents.
Who benefits from play therapy?
Although anyone can benefit from play therapy, play therapy is an especially effective treatment for children typically ages 3 to 12 who are struggling with a wide range of social emotional and behavioral challenges such as:
Dr. Dee C. Ray, Director of Center for Play Therapy University of North Texas, created the following two videos to introduce play therapy to children and to parents.