The Basics of Play Therapy

Children “speak” through a particular language– play. What play therapy does is use the language of playing to engender behavioral changes in young children with developmental delays or behavioral and emotional disorders.

Play has been viewed as important in therapy for decades know. Melanie Klein, a pioneer, in child psychotherapy compared the spontaneity of play in a child as comparable to the free associations an adult might make in clinical session. Play therapy of today can engage both parent and child. Therapists work with everything from puppets to drawings to encourage play and communication, either directing a child to a certain task or allowing the child to explore and find her own play.

It is best for children to work with clinicians who specialize in their disorder or a similar one. Play therapy is tailored to specific conditions. Our team can help your family determine which approach works best for your child. 

The Benefits of Play Therapy

While children can have many of the same conditions adults do, they do not benefit from the same types of interventions and therapies. Play therapy serves as a viable alternative to adult interventions. It can be effective in addressing the following in children:

  • Developmental delays
  • Uregulated anger
  • PTSD
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Attention Deficits
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder

Play therapy can also benefit children who do not have specific diagnoses. Unfortunately, children sometimes experience acute or chronic trauma in their lives that needs to be addressed. Children who experience the following can also be helped by play therapy: 

  • The death or chronic illness of a parent or caregiver
  • Entering foster care
  • Abuse
  • Witnessing traumatic events
  • Significant life changes, such as moves or divorces

As in adults, children sometimes act out in anger when under emotional and psychological stress. Play therapy can also help these children learn new, more constructive tools for communicating feelings.

Finally, play therapy can help uncover issues children have not felt comfortable discussing in the past. For example, if a child is getting bullied at school, he may not feel comfortable sharing that with his parents. Play therapy can help identify issues such as these that children are unable to share.

Different Kinds of Play Therapy

There are several different kinds of play therapy, each with its own system and agenda. What all approaches have in common is that their ultimate goal is to learn about the child’s emotional, mental, and behavioral health in the expressive world of play. Kinds of play therapy include:

  • Creative Play: Drawing with common art media is used to allow the child to express or narrate their feelings or their perceptions about certain situations.
  • Grief and Anger: Anger can be very difficult for children to express constructively due to their still developing communication skills. Grief and anger play therapy allows children to express their anger through various activities such as punching clay or tearing paper.
  • Role play or imaginary play: In imaginary play, the child expresses emotions or narrates situations via dressing up and role playing or imaginary play with toys. 
  • Non-directive play: In non-directive play therapy, the child is given access to an array of developmentally appropriate toys to play with. The therapist allows the child to select an area of play, then encourages the child to communicate via that play.
  • Bibliotherapy: This area of play therapy uses the power of story to relate important life lessons and behaviors to children via books. 

Play therapy comes in many different forms. Our team can help you uncover which approach is best for your child. Contact us today to discuss how play therapy can help your child and family.