Play Therapy

Why is it so important for children to play?

Play is a fun, enjoyable activity that elevates  a child’s spirits and brightens their outlook on life. It expands self-expression, self-knowledge, self-actualization and self-efficacy. Play relieves feelings of stress and boredom, connects children to others in a positive way, stimulates creative thinking and exploration, regulates emotions, and boosts a child’s ego.  In addition, play allows children to practice skills and roles needed for survival. Learning and development are best fostered through play. 

What is play therapy? 

Play therapy is a structured, theoretically based approach to therapy that builds on the normal communicative and learning processes of children. The curative powers inherent in play are used in many ways. Therapists strategically utilize play therapy to help children express what is troubling them when they do not have the verbal language to express their thoughts and feelings. In play therapy, toys are like the child’s words and play is the child’s language.

How does play therapy help a child? 

Children are referred for play therapy to resolve their problems.  Often, children have used up their own problem solving tools, and they misbehave, may act out at home, with friends, and at school. Play therapy allows trained mental health practitioners who specialize in play therapy, to assess and understand children’s play. Through play therapy, children learn to communicate with others, express feelings, modify behavior, develop problem-solving skills, and learn a variety of ways of relating to others. Play provides a safe psychological distance from their problems and allows expression of thoughts and feelings appropriate to their development.

How long does play therapy take? 

Each play therapy session varies in length but usually last about 30 to 50 minutes. Sessions are usually held weekly. Research suggests that it takes an average of 20 play therapy sessions to resolve the problems of the typical child referred for treatment. Of course, some children may improve much faster while more serious or ongoing problems may take longer to resolve.

How might parents be involved in play therapy?

Families play an important role in children’s healing processes. The interaction between children’s problems and their families is always complex. Sometimes children develop problems as a way of signaling that there is something wrong in the family. Other times the entire family becomes distressed because the child’s problems are so disruptive. In all cases, children and families heal faster when they work together. The play therapist will make some decisions about how and when to involve some or all members of the family in the play therapy. At a minimum, the therapist will want to communicate regularly with the child’s caretakers to develop a plan for resolving problems as they are identified and to monitor the progress of the treatment. Other options might include involving the parents or caretakers directly in the treatment by modifying how they interact with the child at home or including the parents in the play session (see filial therapy). 

Information adapted from Association for Play Therapy website.