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What is Play Therapy?

Play Therapy is a form of therapy used with children through young adolescents to help assist them in expressing their feelings and experiences through a more natural, self-guided, self-healing, and engaging process. Play is the area children are most familiar and comfortable with. They can express themselves more effectively through play than talk due to limited verbal skills at time. Play therapy can assist in improving social interactions, growth and development, emotional regulation and expression, and resolving trauma and its effects. In some forms, it can also be used as a diagnostic tool by observing a child playing with toys to determine the cause of the behavior or emotional issue. Another form of play therapy is more directive and uses play to work on things such as desensitization or readjusting; however, it is still assumed that these will be learned naturally through the play process.

Non-Directive Play Therapy vs Directive Play Therapy:

Non-Directive: also known as client-centered play therapy, works under the principle that if given the opportunity to play freely, while in the correct therapeutic environment, children will be able to resolve their emotional and behavioral problems on their own by finding their own solutions. In this form of therapy the therapist is more of an observer and engaging on the client’s level and in a non-directive manner. They can make observations and ask minimal questions but due not make suggestions or guide.

Directive: works under the principle that using directives to guide a child through play will lead to faster change then non-directive play therapy. Therapists use a number of techniques to engage the child, through engaging in the play with the child. The therapist can suggest topics or activities and is generally structured by the therapist.

Why Does Play Therapy Work?

When children experience distressing emotions or stressing situations, they frequently act out inappropriately. Play Therapy targets children under the age of twelve, although can be used with older adolescents depending on developmental level. Children of these ages often have trouble expressing themselves verbally. Play is a natural conduit for communication as they spend a good portion of their life engaged in it. This level of comfort optimizes learning, enhances relationships, and improves health and well being. Exploration through play enhances and teaches new cognitive and physical behaviors to replace those that have interfered with quality of life, essentially teaching healthy and appropriate thinking and coping techniques without the need to explain in terms that a child can not yet comprehend. There are a number of methods used in play therapy to achieve these goals including movement, sand play, dream play, nature play, social play, pretend/fantasy play, creative play, storytelling, and vocal play.

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