What is play therapy?
Play therapy refers to a large number of treatment methods, all of which make use of one or more of the natural benefits of play, using toys, dolls, games, etc. Play allows children a safe psychological distance from their problems and allows them to express their true thought and feelings in ways best suited to their developmental level.
Play is a child’s natural form of communication, just as talking is an adult’s natural way to communicate. Even children who are quite talkative express themselves more fully through their play. For children, emotions are often difficult to understand and even more difficult to express. Play provides a non-threatening way for children to express themselves.
How does play therapy work?
The therapist will observe your child at play. They will notice how they play alone, when others are present and how they play after others leave the room. The therapist will notice which toys your child plays with and how they play. As well, the therapist can see how your child plays from session to session. Children tend to be uninhibited when playing so this provides an insight into your child’s thoughts, emotions, and coping mechanisms.
The therapist may direct which toys your child will play with – depending on their goals for the session, or they may let the child lead and the therapist will participate when needed.
Typical items and techniques used in play therapy include:
- Drawing, colouring, painting
- Sand tray and toys
- People, action, or animal figurines
- Dolls and dollhouses
- Board games
- Blocks and building toys
- Toy phones
The therapist may ask your child to tell them a story or show them something that is stressful or scary for them in their life. The therapist can ask them to solve problems through games or puzzles. Play is a great way for children to express themselves and very insightful for the therapist.
When is play therapy used?
Play therapy can be used to help children who are experiencing:
- Chid and youth anxiety
- Child and youth depression
- Child and youth stress and trauma
- Children’s mental health concerns
- Self esteem issues
- Grief and loss
- Divorce or separation
This type of therapy may be used to treat other conditions and concerns in addition to those listed above. It may also be used in conjunction with other treatment methods. Your therapist will work with you to determine the best treatment method for your individual circumstances.
You should be aware that there is no treatment method that is successful for every person. What works for you, may not work for someone else.
Adults and play therapy
Play therapy can also be effective for older youth and adults, especially adults who have developmental disorders, brain injuries, dementia, or have suffered PTSD. For example, adult coloring is seen as a relaxing pastime, this same concept can be applied to play therapy – when you’re more relaxed, it’s easier to let your guard down and let feelings and thoughts flow. Play is a different way to express emotions and thoughts that may be hard to express in other ways, and a creative approach to problem solving.
What to expect from therapy
Put simply, you will get out of therapy what you put into it. It’s not a magic solution that will solve all your problems. It may involve you doing some real work and being completely honest with yourself and your therapist. Sometimes facing our truth is the hardest thing of all – but from that discomfort can come healing and growth.