What is Play Therapy?
Play therapy is to children what talk therapy is to adults. Play therapy utilizes play, children’s natural medium of communication, to help them express their feelings more easily in a way that makes sense to them. Play is a child’s language and toys are the child’s words. Though children lack the cognitive skills to express themselves with words, they are fluent in the language of play. Play therapy allows them to express themselves in the way in which they are most comfortable.
The APT (Association for Play Therapy) defines play therapy as “the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.”
More simply put, play therapy is a way of being with the child that honors their unique developmental level and looks for ways of helping in the “language” of the child – play. Counselors and therapists therapeutically use play to help their clients, most often children ages 3 to 10 years, to better express themselves and resolve their problems.
Play Therapy works best when a safe relationship is created between the therapist and child. The child is able to freely and naturally express both what pleases and bothers them.
Research suggests Play Therapy is an effective mental health treatment approach, regardless of age, gender, or the nature of the problem, and works best when a parent, family member, or caretaker is actively involved in the treatment process.
How can play therapy help my child?
Mental health agencies, schools, hospitals, and private practitioners have utilized Play Therapy as a primary intervention or as supportive therapy for:
- Behavioral problems
- Anger management
- Grief and loss surrounding divorce, abandonment or death
- Crisis and trauma
- Attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD)
- Pervasive developmental/academic/social developmental issues
- Physical disabilities
- Conduct disorders
Play therapy has proven equally effective across age, gender, and presenting problem. Additionally, positive treatment effects were found to be greatest when there was a parent actively involved in the child’s treatment.
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.