The What & Why of Play Therapy

If you want to understand what your child sees, feels, and thinks about the life and world she is experiencing, watch the way she plays without judging or correcting.

Plato said, "You can learn more about a person in one hour of play than in a year of conversation."

Play is the natural way that children communicate and make sense of their experiences and the world around them. When children have experienced trauma, have developed an intense fear or have recently lost a loved one they need to be able to work through and recover from how these experiences are affecting them.

If you are like most parents, you may not realize the power of play and you may expect your child to be able to use his words to tell you what he wants, how he's feeling and what his needs are. 

Even though a child may be highly verbal, she doesn't yet have the brain development to be able to process his experiences verbally as an adult would do in talk therapy. Her mastery of language is growing every day, but play is still a child's primary language. 

Play is also a way you can bond with your child on a regular basis. There has been a lot of research showing how play helps people of all ages to combat stress and experience greater mental and physical health. Your relationship with your child can be bolstered by regular playful interaction.

If your child is experiencing anxiety, grief or has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, you may want to take your child to a licensed mental health professional who is trained in play therapy. 

Play therapy provides a safe outlet for children to explore and express perceptions, memories and feelings.  It has been said by leaders in the field of play therapy that play is a child's language and the toys are her words.  As a Registered Play Therapist, I am intensively trained in  understanding your child's language of play. I provide children an emotionally safe place to show me her world, what she is feeling and what she most needs as she plays.

There are three approaches to play therapy. 

  • Child Centered Play Therapy
  • Directive Play Therapy
  • Prescriptive Play Therapy

Child Centered Play Therapy is the foundation of all play therapy. It is rooted in deep respect for the child as an individual and for his unique way of experiencing his life and world. In child centered play therapy we provide a space that is non-judging, reflective and we ensure the child knows he is heard and seen with very close attention and empathy. This is a non-directive approach, allowing for the child to explore and expression whatever he needs and wishes trusting that he will naturally work through and resolve whatever needs to be worked through and resolved in natural time with the toys in the play room. The play therapist holds this space and is closely present, witnessing and tracking the child's choices and expressions affirmatively. 

Directive Play Therapy built on a foundation of the essence of child centered play therapy allows for the therapist to provide directed play techniques and interventions to support the child in learning new skills or providing specific avenues often evidence-based that assist the child with a particular issue that we know the child is grappling with. For example if a child is presenting with with inability to self-soothe when highly anxious a directive play therapy technique might be to introduce "the birthday cake breath" where the child is directed to imagine she has baked a yummy smelling cake with a yummy scent she wants to breathe in deeply and then blowing out the candles on the cake. This helps a child learn how to have a bodily experience of deep inhales and full exhales which can generate a calming effect. 

Prescriptive Play Therapy is an approach that considers that we must meet the child where the child is, assess the needs of the child based on what we observe in his play and then create a plan for the therapy that provides a combination of child centered play therapy and directive play techniques centering around the unique issues and challenges the child is presenting. 

Play therapy is the most developmentally appropriate approach to providing therapy to young children. When needed, boundaries and limits are set in the play room in order to keep children safe and support them in developing their own internal self-regulation.

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