What is play therapy?
Play therapy is a therapy technique for children that has gained growing popularity over the last 40 years. It is a structured, theoretically based therapy approach that builds on the normal communicative and learning processes of children (Carmichael, 2006; Landreth, 2002; O'Connor & Schaefer, 1983). The curative powers inherent in play are used in many ways. Therapists strategically utilize play therapy to help children express what is troubling them when they do not have the verbal language to express their thoughts and feelings (Gil, 1991). In play therapy, toys are like the child's words and play is the child's language (Landreth, 2002). Through play, therapists can help children learn more adaptive behaviors to repair deficits in behavior or emotional development. The positive relationship that develops between therapist and child during play therapy sessions can provide a corrective emotional experience necessary for healing (Moustakas, 1997). Play therapy may also be used to promote cognitive development and offer the child insight about and resolution to inner conflicts .
Why play therapy?
Play therapy builds on the natural way that children learn about themselves and their relationships in the world around them (Axline, 1947; Carmichael, 2006; Landreth, 2002). Through play therapy, children learn to communicate with others, express feelings, modify behavior, develop problem-solving skills, and learn a variety of ways of relating to others. Play provides a safe psychological distance from their problems and allows expression of thoughts and feelings appropriate to their development.
How does it work?
Through the use of a variety of toys and figurines in the playroom, the child is able to create, retell, imagine, or fantasize as a way to communicate to the therapist the issues that are weighing on their mind or that they are facing in daily life. In play therapy, it is never the play therapist's role to decide the direction of the child's play or ask them to do different in the therapy process. While this may require patience on a parent's part, through creating a safe, trusting environment with containment in the playroom, the child will have the opportunity to work through many, if not all, of their emotional or behavioral struggles.
Will it work for everyone?
By creating a safe, contained space for your child, play therapy will never hurt your child or create a negative therapy experience. However, sometimes the individual child, or the particular issue at hand, requires a different approach. Please see the sections on sand tray therapy or EMDR to see what other therapies Good Mourning Counseling can offer.