Why Play Therapy?

Why Play Therapy?

kids play with clay learning through play

Young children explore and communicate through play. Through the eyes of an adult, a child’s play may seem like a means for them to have fun and keep busy, but play is vital to their development.  For children, play is how they discover the way the world works. It is an opportunity to put into reality the thoughts, feelings, memories and imagined scenarios that have been living in their minds. Play is the tool children need to communicate with the world and make sense of the new and novel experiences they are encountering every day. In a therapeutic setting, play therapy allows a child to interact with their therapist in a way that standard talk therapy cannot. A child may not have the language or understanding to describe internalized emotions, anxieties, fears and worries, but with access to a safe and comfortable setting to play in, a child now has the opportunity to communicate their inner workings. A professional trained in play therapy dynamics can create an unbiased therapeutic setting and engage with the child in a way that allows for processing and healing. The stories, themes, characters and even colors involved in a child’s play are not random. Every component is a reflection of the inner working model of the child’s life experience. Play is a child’s way to tell their story. 

Adults have had the gift of time and experience to learn, identify, and adjust to emotions and experiences that we come in contact with every day. We can use rational thought to name our feelings and match an appropriate physical response, we can identify real or perceived threats and take action to dissipate them, and we can identify our needs and communicate them clearly to others. These skills are all developed with the passage of time and interactions with vital life experiences. Children have the same capacity for emotion, perception of danger, and physical responses, but the essential part they are lacking is the experience. Engagement in play is the setting in which children are allowed, without judgement or over-correction, to process emotions and stressors to develop the skills that we practice as adults every day.

Play Therapy can be utilized in conjunction with multiple interventions including; Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Emotion Focused Therapy, Coping Skills Learning and many others. Research on Play Therapy has shown the effectiveness of utilizing play therapy to treat a wide variety of social, emotional, behavioral and learning disorders experienced by children of a variety of ages. Some of the disorders that Play Therapy is effective in treating are; anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity, autism spectrum, oppositional defiant and conduct disorders, and anger management. These modalities are also extremely helpful in assisting children to navigate through life stressors such as divorce, grief and loss, relocation, hospitalization, chronic illness, abuse, and domestic violence. 

With the proper implementation of Play Therapy by a trained professional, children can develop healthy coping skills, enhance their social skills, develop problem solving skills, learn to express emotions, develop friendships, enhance familial relationships and develop self-efficacy and advocacy skills. By also including the family into play therapy, the child’s healing process can be deeper and more enriched. With the implementation of family sessions, Play Therapy can be a multi-dimensional way to enhance the therapeutic process for the child and encourage the child’s caretakers to continue to help the child practice new coping skills. Family sessions also allow for the child’s support system to understand what the child is experiencing. A Play Therapist can hold individual sessions with the child as well as family sessions, parent-child sessions and sibling sessions to offer a well-rounded plan for treatment. 

Play therapy gives children, adolescents, and even some adults, the freedom to explore and communicate thoughts, feelings, memories and gain skills necessary to resolve conflict and deal with life stressors in a healthy and constructive way. While still misunderstood, Play Therapy is becoming increasingly utilized by childhood therapists. More than just the therapeutic benefits, Play Therapy engages the child in the therapeutic process in a way that is unique to the child’s development. By engaging in their creative world, a Play Therapist can meet a child’s specific needs and see them for who they uniquely are. Children are empowered through Play Therapy to take part in implementing the tools they learn and are able to gain a sense of responsibility for their own healing. Through play, they understand struggle and pain, but, more importantly, they understand healing and gratitude. 

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