Play Therapy

What is Play Therapy?

Play Therapy is a structured therapy approach based on years of research and theory which allows children to express themselves through play (this might include art or other expressive means such as dance or music). Children are often unable to express their feelings or articulate their thoughts in the same ways that adults do through traditional “talk therapy.” Play is the language of children and toys are their words. Through the use of metaphor and fantasy play, children will play out their feelings of sadness, worry, anger, fear, etc.  Through play, they are able to work through these feelings, learn to overcome their fears and insecurities, master new skills, and do so in a safe environment with a caring trained professional.  Allowing a child to play freely within boundaries which provide safety and structure offers the child the opportunity to grow and learn about himself, his family and his world.  This type of nurturing and non-judgmental environment allows the child to test out new skills, learn how to identify feelings in a variety of situations, and learn coping skills for managing their feelings. 

How does Play Therapy Benefit a Child?

From the Association for Play Therapy website:  Research supports the effectiveness of play therapy with children experiencing a wide variety of social, emotional, behavioral, and learning problems, including: children whose problems are related to life stressors, such as divorce, death, relocation, hospitalization, chronic illness, stressful experiences, physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, and natural disasters (Reddy, Files-Hall, & Schaefer, 2005). Play therapy helps children:

  • Become more responsible for behaviors and develop more successful strategies
  • Develop new and creative solutions to problems
  • Develop respect and acceptance of self and others
  • Learn to experience and express emotion
  • Cultivate empathy and respect for thoughts and feelings of others
  • Learn new social skills and relational skills with family
  • Develop self-efficacy and thus a better assuredness about their abilities

What is the Therapist’s Role in Play Therapy?

The therapist role first and foremost is to provide a safe and nurturing environment so the child can feel comfortable to be their authentic self. The therapist helps the child identify his feelings through using several therapeutic interventions while in the play. The therapist teaches the child a variety of healthy skills using a gentle, nurturing approach, while at the same time setting and role modeling appropriate boundaries in a caring, playful way to ensure that the child feels safe and learns healthy personal boundaries. The therapeutic relationship between the child and the therapist is healing in itself. The therapist also consults with the parents, and offers support, education, and resources as needed.