Updated: Jun 30, 2022
What is play therapy?
Play therapy is a form of therapy primarily used with children. It is similar to talk therapy for adults. Play is an integral part of childhood and a crucial part of a child's development. Play therapy helps children express what is troubling them when they are unable to find the words to express their feelings. In play therapy, toys are like the child's words, and play is the child's language. Though it may seem like an ordinary playtime, play therapy can be much more.
A therapist can use playtime to observe and learn about a child's problems. By doing so, the therapist can help the child explore emotions and cope with unresolved trauma. Through play, children are able to learn new coping mechanisms and how to redirect inappropriate behavior. The positive and trusting relationship that develops between therapist and child during play therapy sessions provides a safe emotional experience necessary for healing.
When is play therapy used?
Play therapy can benefit people of all ages, but it is most commonly used with children between the ages of 3 and 12. Play therapy can be beneficial in a variety of situations, including:
Facing medical procedures or chronic illness
Developmental delay or learning disabilities
Problem behaviors in school
Family issues, like divorce, separation, or death of a close family member
Natural disasters or traumatic events
Domestic violence, abuse, or neglect
How does play therapy work?
Depending on their age and stage of development, children simply don't have the language skills of adults. In many cases, they may feel something, but they are either unable to express it to an adult or do not have a trusted adult to express it to. Additionally, adults can misinterpret or completely miss the child's nonverbal and verbal cues.
Through play, children learn about the world and their place in it. It's a place where they are free to act out their inner feelings and deepest emotions. Toys can serve as symbols and have greater meaning if you know what to look for. When a child cannot adequately express themselves in the adult world, the therapist joins them in their world, on their level.
As the child plays, they may become less guarded and more likely to express their feelings. However, a therapist will not pressure them. They can do so at their own pace and using their preferred method of communication.
The type of play therapy a child receives will depend on the therapist and the child's particular needs. Initially, the therapist may want to observe the child playing. It may also be helpful to conduct separate interviews with the child, parents, or teachers.
Play therapy meets a child where they are and can significantly impact the lives of children, parents, and family.
How does play therapy help? Some of the ways counseling can help children include:
If your child has a hard time calming down or experiences strong emotions, play therapy can help them manage these emotions. Play is a child's natural language. Therefore, play offers children an outlet to express strong feelings. Your play therapist will carefully select the toys and activities so that your child can express his feelings through play. Establishing limits and providing consistent boundaries are also essential components of therapy to help children respect boundaries and rules.
Some children have a hard time identifying how they feel. Through play therapy, children learn to recognize how they feel when the therapist points out and reflects the child's emotions back to them. As a result, children are able to identify different emotions. Children can also learn how to recognize emotions in others through play. By reflecting others' emotions to the child, the therapist can help the child develop empathy.
Increasing Responsibility and Independence
Is your child having trouble following through with tasks or asking for help with tasks they can do themselves? Some children struggle more than others to feel confident acting independently, and this can be targeted in counseling sessions. Play therapy is a child-centered approach that allows children to make and then adjust to their own decisions. For instance, if a child chooses to play with a specific toy for most of the session and then runs out of time before starting another activity. This experience will allow the child to learn from and take responsibility for their decision. Assuming responsibility decreases helplessness and boosts confidence to complete tasks without asking for unnecessary assistance.
Building Your Child's Self-Esteem Through Play Therapy
Play therapy can also enhance a child's self-esteem as well as help them develop responsibility. There is no expectation that children have to express their feelings and thoughts clearly during play therapy. Through play therapy, children are able to try out solutions and release emotions in a supportive and consistent environment. Having one-on-one time during play therapy sessions can be so important to help children feel supported and cared for.
Processing Significant Events
Unfortunately, children are not immune to experiencing adverse events. Play therapy gives children a unique space to work through and move past traumatic events, such as medical surgeries, parental divorce, and loss of a loved one. The carefully selected toys in the playroom offer children a way to express their emotions and thoughts. By retelling significant events repeatedly through words or play, children can learn to accept changes. Play can be very healing for children, even though it may seem superficial. Children process events and changes differently than adults.
You don't have to continue feeling stressed-out, drained or worried for your child. If your child experiences emotional problems, meltdowns or low self-esteem we can help them decrease meltdowns and build self-esteem. Our skilled child therapists can help your child recognize emotions, process events, build confidence, and begin to thrive.
How can my family participate in play therapy?
Families play an important role in the healing process of children. Problems affecting children and their families are always complex. Children may develop problems as a way of indicating that something is wrong in the family, such as divorce or issues between parents. Sometimes the whole family gets upset when the child's problems become bothersome. When children and families work together, they recover faster.
Play therapists will decide how and when to involve some or all members of the family in the therapy. Ideally, the therapist will communicate regularly with the child's caretakers to develop a plan for resolving problems as they arise and to monitor the progress of the treatment. No matter how involved the family members are, they typically play an important role in the healing process.
Play has been proven to be especially beneficial for the healthy development of children, especially those who have experienced trauma or stressful events in the past. Through play therapy and the special relationship built with a child's therapist, children learn to problem-solve, become more self-reliant, increase resiliency, name and process thoughts and feelings, learn new (and usually more socially acceptable) ways of getting needs met, increase coping skills, and replace maladaptive thoughts about themselves and others with more adaptive ones. Children learn they are capable and lovable, just the way they are. This is the foundation of contentment and success for which they can build the rest of their lives.