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Can Play Be Therapy?

kids, children

The practice of play therapy dates back to the early 1900’s.  Almost every theoretical orientation such as Adlerian, Jungian, Gestalt, Behavioral, and Cognitive has a play therapy component.  Child centered play therapy is the most popular form of play therapy. This provides a safe and non-judgmental space for a child to express themselves with creative and purposeful toys that can validate a child’s experience.

Why Play Therapy?

Children do not communicate in the same way that adults do.  Many children are not able to articulate words and emotions during a typical conversation or during a “talk therapy” session.  The therapist must meet the child where they are. Children communicate the emotions they are feeling and the experiences that they have had through the medium in which they are accustomed to — playing.  The benefits of play therapy for children are vast. They can include the promotion of secure attachment, problems solving, internal motivation, self-awareness; the formation of a more positive self-image; increased communication skills; and an increased ability to express emotions.

The Therapist’s Role

Before beginning play therapy sessions, the play therapist will often set ground rules or boundaries for the therapy. Boundaries keep the child safe and secure while in the play room.  One important rule for the play therapist is to promote consistency.  The therapist will remind both the child and parent when the play therapy appointment is, and therapy is most effective when the family attends consistently.  It often takes a few sessions for the therapist to build a good rapport and trusting relationship with the child. This is the most important part at the beginning of the therapeutic process.

The therapist will offer the child unconditional positive regard to allow them to learn that while unacceptable behavior such as hurting others, themselves, or toys is not tolerated; they are accepted for who they are.  The play therapist promotes a child’s self-expression without judging or critiquing the child.  The play therapist also consistently maintains interest in the child, and in their curiosities, hobbies, fears, joys, and idiosyncrasies. The interest and unconditional positive regard must be maintained even during difficult sessions.

Content of the Sessions

Problems addressed during a play therapy session range from effective communication, coping skills, adjustment, problem solving, self-motivation, and healthy ways to express strong emotions.  It is often helpful for children who have gone through:

  1. bullying

  2. parental divorce

  3. have blended families

  4. anxiety

  5. depression

  6. low self-esteem

  7. sexual, emotional, or physical abuse

  8. developmental delays.

Play therapy can be helpful in dealing with psychosocial stressors such as arguments parents, peers, or brothers and sisters.  The use of therapy toys allows for children to externalize their emotions making them easier to confront.  Children act out fear, anger, sadness, fights, abuse, or any other psychosocial event that they are experiencing.  During therapy no topic is off limits.  When children cannot articulate these feelings and actions through words, they are able to utilize therapeutic tools that this particular therapy provides to explore and communicate feelings.

Play therapy truly helps children express themselves in a way that can be conceptualized and understood by the therapist, allowing them to relay play themes and behavioral messages to a parent or guardian.  For more information about play therapy, or any other issue related to children, please feel free to contact us.  We are here to help! You can call us at 832-421-8714 or email us to make an appointment.


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