Play Therapy

Healing and Learning with Play

Play therapy is usually used with children from preschool ages to late elementary school. It makes use of various forms of play to provide a safe and happy environment for children to demonstrate feelings and learn to deal with emotional and circumstantial challenges. Often, those who haven’t experienced it or had a child near them need it, dismiss play therapy as little more than playing with puppets or digging in the sandbox. However, even these commonly expected play behaviors are potent tools for dealing with children’s issues.

About the therapies

  • Why young children?
  • What kinds of play are used?
  • How does play support therapy?

Young Children as Ideal Subjects for Play Therapy

Professionals who have studied play – in our species and others – recognize that play provides a safe and vital form of activities in which to grow, explore, and learn how to experience and deal with emotions. Children are, by nature, often inclined to play, and to play intensely. Their most powerful feelings may be expressed in a safe context, where “true” feelings and issues are projected in less threatening, dangerous objects, or roles, or acted out in comfortably distanced activities

Children are often more at ease, and able to immerse themselves deeply but without fear in their various games. As a result, play therapy can be used as a method of exploring highly emotional topics without damaging a child. The technique is even more effective as a method for allowing a child to explore various strategies for dealing with feelings and situations. In this case, the child’s imagination, guided by a skilled counselor, finds answers for himself.

What Kinds of Play Are Used in Play Therapy?

Play therapy tends to fall into two categories: play that involves story-telling, and play that involves problem solving of a puzzle/gaming nature. Role play games allow children to demonstrate roles they know, and explore roles they imagine. These games can range from forms of playing house, or dolls, or dinosaurs, to drawing and the well-known puppet play. All of these at some point contain aspects of story-telling and narration, in which child and counselor can both see how a child understands their world and relationships.

Puzzle and game play is more often aimed at seeing what skills children have in analyzing problems and solving them, and how they deal with clear cases of losing and winning. Within the structure of board games, puzzles, and magic tricks, however, a child may also come to express feelings about how their life works, how they understand other people to work, and similar emotional issues.

Is Play Therapy Useful for Therapy?

Yes. Children can be exceptionally hard patients for a counselor to address. Their reasons for participating, their commitment to the process, their understanding of the many issues, are all insufficient for classical talk-therapy, and make some aspects of other schools of therapy precarious at best. Play therapy takes advantage of a natural, safe and comfortable behavior to allow a counselor to help a child cope with issues on the child’s level, rather than trying to force a child to function on an adult level they can’t yet access.

Finding a Counselor for Play Therapy

The majority of professional child psychologists and psychiatrists are familiar with forms of play therapy. Those who don’t make use of such methods are likely to refer you to others who do. Referral services, medical clinics and local governmental agencies can often provide references, also.


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