What Is Play Therapy for Children?
Play is a natural activity of learning, exploration, and communication for children. Play therapy takes advantage of this innate ability to help children explore their feelings and thoughts, express themselves, and understand their life experiences. In essence, it helps them to play out what they
may otherwise find difficult to put into words.
Play therapy is a sensible, research-supported, and developmentally-based child counseling approach to helping children cope with and overcome the problems they experience in the process of living their lives. The younger a child is when they begin play therapy, the more malleable their brain structure will be. This makes it easier to build neural pathways that lead to healthy emotional regulation, well-being, and adaptive behavior as they mature into happy, well-
adjusted, and functional adults.
How Do Play Therapy Sessions Work?
Play therapy for children is about accepting the child for who they are and not looking at them as a problem. Rather, the focus is on trying to understand where they are at and what they need in that moment in their life.
As noted before, children use play as their primary form of communicating thoughts, feelings, values, and perceptions. They learn through hands-on activities. The various toys in the play therapy room are designed to allow for expression of specific emotions and needs that they don’t necessarily have the language for. A play therapist is specially trained in how to read beyond the surface of the child’s play so they can interpret that language and provide tailored support to the child and parents.
Our goal in session is to help your child resolve their social, emotional, behavioral, and developmental difficulties over time or to learn new behaviors and skills to cope with challenges. As they play out their negative thoughts and emotions, they don’t need to act them out anymore. Generally, children over the age of seven quickly start to understand how to take
new coping skills they learned in therapy and use them in the real world.
What Should I Expect in Child Therapy Sessions?
For the first session, we ask you (the parents) to come in without your child being present so you can discuss your concerns with the therapist. This helps us to get a thorough understanding of what’s going on with your child—their needs, home life, external factors, etc. During the second counseling session, we start working directly with your child, though we will include you as needed to get more information and provide feedback and learning tools you can use at home.
In general, we start out with Child-Centered Play Therapy to assess your child’s individual situation. Then, we integrate other variations of play therapy that fit your child’s specific therapeutic needs. For example, we may employ the use of Sand Tray Play Therapy to help them communicate their emotions. Or perhaps your child learns most effectively through reading developmentally appropriate books concerning specific issues (this is known as bibliotherapy),
or they might express themselves best through artwork. And depending on your child’s age, mindfulness techniques, journaling, or using feelings charts can be extremely helpful in relieving stress and anxiety.
Play therapy goes much deeper than a typical parenting class or education. Parental involvement is the key to success! We work in partnership with you in the treatment process as you are ultimately the experts on your child. The play therapist will let you know how your child is manifesting symptoms in the playroom and give you tips on how to address challenging behaviors at home as well as reinforcing skills learned.