Play therapy has been found to have a positive impact on as much as 71% of children that undergo it. Here we will seek to provide a basic understanding of what play therapy is and how it works. We will also address some of the key questions surrounding this approach.
What Is Play Therapy?
Play therapy is a psychotherapeutic approach to therapy that allows children to explore and express their feelings and thoughts through play. Though it can also be used for adults, it is primarily targeted at children from ages 3 to 12. It is also used in family therapy for those with children in the same age range.
The children are given a chance to freely communicate and solve problems. The therapist uses this as an opportunity to observe the child’s decisions and play behavior. The therapist can introduce different kinds of play including painting, drawing, board games, sand and water play, dancing, puppet shows, and storytelling. Children are encouraged to express themselves healthily, finding more positive ways to solve problems.
Play is very helpful in bringing out the positive side of human nature. It is an enjoyable activity that encourages participants to express themselves. It also reduces feelings of boredom and stress, promoting a sense of creativity and exploration. Play can also aid in learning and development, encouraging a sense of self-worth and nurturing of skills.
How Does It work?
Children referred to play therapists often have behavioral issues. They may lack the ability to resolve conflicts and begin to act out at home and school. The therapists use play sessions to assess the child and how they process difficult emotions. The children are encouraged to change how they think and feel, finding healthier and creative solutions to their problems. They also learn empathy and respect for others.
Play therapy is typically conducted in a playroom. The children, and sometimes family, are given the freedom to explore and try spontaneous play. They can build a sandcastle, set up a puppet show, or complete a puzzle. As they play, they are encouraged to talk about different things including what is happening in their lives and relationships, and how they feel about it.
Who Should Receive Play Therapy?
Play therapy can be of benefit to anyone. But it is particularly effective for children in the 3-12 age range that are experiencing anxiety, stress, depression, phobias, and attention disorders. It can also be beneficial to children that have suffered trauma, bullying, and bereavement. Those that have difficulty making friends and experience sleep problems like nightmares can also benefit.
Play therapists do adapt their approach to the specific needs of the child and the problems they are experiencing. Play therapy has also been successfully used in treating complex trauma in adolescents and more recently as an intervention for infants and toddlers. With teens and adults, the therapist works on helping them relearn the values of play. It is used to promote cognitive function and physical activity and is often used as a complement to other treatment modalities.
What Problems Does Play Therapy Help with?
Play therapy is used to address social and academic problems. These can be brought about by aforementioned experiences like bullying and bereavement. The therapy works to resolve the feeling of trauma and loss suffered. It also seeks to improve the child’s behavior.
What Are the Benefits for Children in Play Therapy?
Most children that undergo play therapy are often hesitant in the beginning. With time, their trust in their play therapists grows and a bond is created. It becomes easier for them to communicate and play freely. Gradually they learn to take responsibility for their behaviors. They also develop better creative problem-solving abilities and cultivate a stronger sense of empathy and respect for others.
Their feelings of anxiety are reduced and they begin to more fully express and experience their feelings. In family play therapy, stronger family ties are built and social skills are improved. With more play and communication, a child’s motor and language skills are further developed.
How Does Family Play Therapy Help?
This therapy differs in that the goal is to build a stronger family unit rather than just focusing on the child. The therapist will seek to deepen emotional bonds, promote better communication, and create a better living environment for all. For this, the play sessions may vary. It may involve the parents and the child, siblings alone, or the entire family. With time family members can open up and better communicate with each other.
How Long Should Play Therapy Last?
Play therapy sessions will often last anywhere between 30-50 minutes. They are typically held weekly. On average, a child will undergo about 20 play therapy sessions to resolve whatever problem they are experiencing. It may however take a longer or shorter duration of treatment to see results.