The World of Play Therapy

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Written by: Teresa Johnson, MS, NCC, LPC-Intern

Supervised by: Penny Haight, M.Ed., LPC-S

“Toys are like a child’s words and play is the child’s language.”   ― Dr. Gary Landreth

Often times, people ask, “What is play therapy and can it really help?” The following will answer a majority of questions about play therapy, but is it important to know ….. Yes! Play therapy really helps!

A Brief Synopsis

There are many types of play therapy, whether directive or non-directive, and it is important to know and understand which form of play therapy is being used with your child. Directive play therapy is a type of play therapy in which the therapist interacts more with the child and may use prompts in order to create dialogue or play. Non-directive play therapy is a type of play therapy in which all cues are given by the child. The therapist emphasizes their actions and makes no assumptions. The therapist also avoids labeling any toy or movement.

Non-directive play therapy allows the child the independence to “make the rules” so to speak. Everything which is done in therapy is done at the child’s request. The therapist only plays when the child asks them to join. The therapist refrains from interjecting and allows the child to ask for help when they feel they need it.

How is this helpful to my child?

Children are not like adults who can talk about the way that they feel about particular situations in their lives. Most of the child’s talking and processing is done through play. The child may have a hard time identifying their triggers to anger or anxiety so they are unable to say what exactly made them angry. Play therapy affords them the opportunity to play through the “anger” or “anxiety” so that they do not carry it with them throughout the day.

Non-directive play therapy does have boundaries associated with it, when it is needed. For instance, if a therapist is working with a child who is aggressive at home, and wants to help curb that behavior the therapist would work with the child to learn new alternatives to relieving anger rather than aggression towards family members. The therapist would also work with the family to help them assert boundaries. An example of that dialogue may look similar to this:

“You are screaming and shouting and hitting, but Mommy is not for hitting. You may hit the pillows or stomp your feet, but Mommy is not for hitting.”

It is important for the child to know that they are allowed to feel angry, but to help them express it in a healthy way. This is important for any emotion. The goal is to help the child develop their emotional intelligence.

Benefits of play therapy

Play therapy helps to reduce the child’s stress and promotes a trusting relationship, not only between the counselor and the child but also promotes healthy and safe relationships in general. Play therapy also encourages communication. In addition to these great benefits play therapy will also help to promote problem solving, self-control, self-direction, self-respect, self-acceptance, and self-reliance

Children who benefit from play therapy

There are many different children who benefit from play therapy. Play therapy is a good technique for those with depression, anxiety, dealing with issues of divorce or separation, trauma, grief, challenges at school, impulse control issues, social withdrawal, ADHD, and anger management.

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