Play is a child’s language and toys are the child’s words. Play expands self-expression, self-knowledge, self-actualization, and self-efficacy. Play relieves stress, connects us to people in positive ways, stimulates creative thinking and exploration, regulates our emotions, and boosts our ego. In addition, play allows us to practice skills and roles needed for survival. Learning and development are best fostered through play.
What is Play Therapy?
Play therapy refers to a large number of treatment methods, all applying the therapeutic benefits of play. Play therapy differs from regular play in that the therapist helps children address and resolve their own problems. Play therapy builds on the natural way that children learn about themselves and their relationships in the world around them. 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 Play Therapy Work?
Often, by the time children are referred for play therapy, they have used up their own problem-solving tools and they misbehave, acting out at home, with friends, and at school. Play therapy allows trained therapists who specialize in play therapy to assess and understand children’s play. Further, play therapy is utilized to help children cope with difficult emotions and find solutions to their problems. By confronting problems in the clinical play therapy setting, children find healthier and more effective solutions. Play therapy allows children to change the way they think about, feel toward, and resolve their concerns. Even the most troubling problems can be confronted in play therapy and lasting resolutions can be discovered, rehearsed, mastered, and adapted into lifelong strategies.
Who Benefits From Play Therapy?
Research supports the effectiveness of play therapy with children ages 2-13 experiencing a wide variety of social, emotional, behavioral, and learning problems. Play therapy is utilized as a treatment of choice for anxiety disorders, depression, attention deficit disorders, autism spectrum, oppositional defiant disorders, anger management, trauma, grief and loss, divorce, academic and social development.
How May My Family Be Involved in Play Therapy?
Families play an important role in children’s healing processes. The interaction between children’s problems, their environment, and family composition can be complex and sometimes children develop problems, which signal that there is a problem in the family unit. Other times, the entire family becomes distressed because the child’s problems are so disruptive. In all cases, children and families heal faster when they work together. Your therapist will make decisions about how and when to involve some or all members of the family in your child’s treatment. At a minimum, the therapist will want to communicate regularly with the child’s caretakers to develop a plan for resolving problems as they are identified and to monitor the progress of the treatment.