Play therapy refers to a wide variety of treatment methods, all of which incorporate the use of play. Play therapy is based on the belief that play is an essential part of people’s lives and critical to healthy development. Play is the language of children. Play is the language of consciousness. For children, play is a natural method of learning, development and expression of feelings, thoughts and concerns.
“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”
Through play, children can learn about their own capabilities and limitations, social rules, the difference between fantasy and reality, rehearse new skills and come to master challenging and difficult situations. Play helps children find words for their experiences so that they can be understood by their peers and the adults in their lives. In play therapy, children can “play out” their problems or concerns at a safe psychological distance so they do not have to play it out the world. Play therapy allows children to express themselves in a manner that is ideally suited to their developmental level,
How does play therapy work?
Play therapists are uniquely trained to assess and understand the metaphorical content of children’s play. Play therapists use their understanding of play to increase children’s coping skills and to translate their understanding of the play to parents, caregivers and educators involved in their lives. In the playroom, under the guidance of a trained play therapist, children can safely confront their problems in a protected play environment. Children learn to confine, define and master their problems.
Play therapy can help children:
Research indicates that an average of 20 sessions is needed to resolve the problems of a typical child coming to therapy. Of course, there is great variation in the number of session children will need as some children may improve rapidly and more serious or ongoing problems may take longer to resolve. Parents are an integral part of the play therapy process.
Therapists meet regularly with parents to support and enhance the work the child is doing in play therapy sessions. Parents are crucial in providing feedback to the therapist about changes at home. The therapist translates the child’s play for the parents and gives suggestions on how to support the child’s therapy at home.
Research supports the effectiveness of play therapy with children who are experiencing a wide variety of social, emotional, behavioral, and learning problems, including: anxiety/fearfulness, aggression, depression, ADHD, impulsivity, low-self esteem, social withdrawal, and post-traumatic stress.
Play therapy has been effective with children whose problems are related to life stressors, such as divorce, death, relocation, hospitalization, invasive medical procedures, chronic illness in self or family, domestic violence and natural disasters. While many childhood upsets are healed without therapeutic intervention, play therapy offers a natural, safe and non-invasive method to foster and hasten recovery from common distressing events as well as major traumas.
“The field of play is where, to a large extent, a sense of self is generated.”
— Russell Meares