One of the most common questions I’ve been asked by parents is, “What is play therapy, and why is it the preferred way to work with children in therapy?
When adults begin their counselling journeys, they use words to express and communicate their thoughts and feelings. Young children do not generally communicate this same way, often because they don’t have the language to express what is happening in their internal world. They use play instead of words and let their play speak for them. Through play, children communicate their thoughts, worries, feelings just like adults do with words.
A child’s natural inclination is to play. Through play they are able to learn about the world around them and themselves, for example, I like playing with blocks but not drawing. To an adult, play can look like an unproductive activity, but appearances can be deceiving. For children, play is serious business. It is never a waste of time. It is through play that children practice limitless things in a free and safe environment, until they have mastered them, preparing children for “the real world”- as adults call it- all without the child, or the child’s parents, realizing it.
Therapeutically, play gives the therapist a peek into the child’s rich inner world. The diverse ways in which children interact with different toys can reveal their feelings, fears, anxieties, desires, and past experiences. Children will act these out in their play and, at the same time, self-soothe/regulate, find novel solutions to problems, and learn.
What Is Play Therapy Helpful For?
Generally, play therapy is used with children between the ages of 3 and 12 years for presenting issues including, but not limited to:
- Problem behaviors at home or school
- Facing medical procedures
- Angry and/or aggressive behaviors
- Family divorce or separation, loss of a loved one in the family, birth of a sibling
- Natural disasters
- Traumatic events
- Domestic violence, abuse, or neglect
- Anxiety, depression, and phobias
- Deficits in social skills
- Repressed feelings
The play therapist will typically observe how the child plays during the sessions and may intervene from time to time, depending on the child and the child’s therapeutic needs. Sessions are tailored to each individual child. Therapy goals are assessed in the initial sessions and periodically, thereafter.
What Does a Session Look Like?
Toys and other items are set out in the session room so that children can reach them easily. My preferred method is allowing the child to choose the items he/she wants to use during the session, much like an adult will choose what to discuss in a counselling session. Items used in these sessions can include:
- Paints, coloring pencils/markers and crayons
- Miniature house (simulates child’s house) with figures of family members and furniture
- Toy cars
- Doctor’s kit
- Play money
- Sand tray
- Board games and playing cards
- Action figures
- A soft ball
As a play therapist, I find these sessions with children to be not only therapeutically helpful, but also great fun and incredibly rewarding professionally! I know that play therapy can be a bit mysterious for parents and I hope this article helps you understand it a bit more. If your child is struggling, I would love to work with them, and with you to see how play therapy could help!
If you’d like to know more, or book an appointment, click here to contact the Client Care Team. We love your little ones!