Despite common misconceptions surrounding it, therapy is not just for adults. Indeed, even children can benefit from it. However, it does get harder for most therapists to handle younger patients, especially when they can’t talk at the same level as an adult would. In these cases, talking to them normally probably wouldn’t work, even if you are the best therapist around. They will be defensive, mostly quiet, and will ignore you no matter what you say. They may even get mad and fight with fists and teeth just so they could go home, or wherever they feel is much safer than a therapist’s office.

Fortunately, for all those problems comes play therapy. It’s an approach to therapy that is actually as simple as its name can get. Play therapy uses toys and games to gain the child’s trust. Furthermore, it allows them to be more open and receptive to the therapist. Unlike how adults typically do, children love to play, and they trust their playmates more than anyone. They would tell them their problems and listen to them better. Being a playmate to them lets the therapist do a better job at assessing their emotions and other states of their psychological health.

Children Live in The World of Play

For children, their world generally revolves around play. In a way, play is how they make sense of the world around them and its inner workings. It gives them the space to learn about their surroundings through the way they or their playmates act in their games. When a child throws a ball in the air so their playmate could catch it, they soon realize that everything they throw would eventually fall to the ground.

Knowing this, a therapist can teach a child new things through play and games. For a child lacking in social skills, they can be taught how to read social cues to let them understand how other children feel. They can also be assessed for psychological disorders based on how they react while playing games. Do they seem “aloof” to other children? Are they likely to lash out? You could also find them more likely to listen to what a therapist says when they think they are playing a game.

The Words Which Children Speak

Another problem that makes it harder to work with children is because they lack a good vocabulary. You may ask if a child feels distressed, disgusted, frightened, or envious. In turn, they might only respond by saying they feel bad or sad. At best, you understood that the child feels negatively about something, but you don’t understand how much. At worst, the child might feel misunderstood and starts ignoring you completely.

Play therapy bridges the gap in vocabulary by incorporating play language in the patient-to-therapist interaction. One could use dolls to ask a child what happened during a stressful experience or use puppets to let them express how they feel. With play therapy, most of the talking takes the form of toys.

Not All the Players Are Children

In any form of therapy, the success rate of a treatment plan will always go up if their support network helps them through the process. The same also goes with play therapy. Children with chronic or developmental psychological disorders can benefit from playing with their parents or caretakers. Doing so helps them connect better to the people who spend the most time with them. They can be taught how to converse with the child through the games they play and teach them the skills that they may be lacking on. This also lets them understand what the child thinks of a particular topic and properly correct the child whenever they make a mistake.

Other times, however, the problem doesn’t really come from the child, but from the surroundings they are in. Sometimes, a child might notice a sudden change in the home, such as a new or missing family member. This could make them feel uncomfortable and possibly act in a rather distressful way. Their caretaker may be taught how to explain these things to the child in a way that they would understand.

On the other hand, play therapy can even benefit teenagers and adults. It can be helpful for older people who suffer from diseases that affect their ability to take care of themselves. These diseases may include:

  • Dementia and other neurological diseases
  • Major depression and other depressive disorders
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

Play therapy may even be used as a recreational process to relieve stress. However, the technique is mainly used for children between ages 3 and 12.

Play Therapy Is Indirect

As a treatment approach, play therapy is meant to be used with other therapeutic techniques that could help. It does not strive to fix the problem on its own. However, it does give children the autonomy to fix their problems in a way that they can understand.

Unlike other therapeutic approaches, play therapy is mainly a rapport-building technique. It bridges the child’s thoughts to an adult’s mind. This allows the two to communicate in such a way that they can understand each other as an adult patient and therapist would. However, play therapy needs some expertise. The adult playing with the child should be aware that there are things that the child may not understand.

Trained therapists may know more about what children don’t understand than the average person, but a huge part of what they really do is to learn what a child does and doesn’t know. They try to ask through the way they play their games. Doing this lets the therapist know what could be going on in the child’s mind, according to how the child understands it. Through this, the therapist may then form a treatment plan to help the child and the caretaker deal with the problem.

In addition, play therapy can also work as a way to fix a relationship gap between an adult and a child. While children tend to be more forgiving than their older counterparts, there are times when their relationships with their own caretakers break down due to certain traumatic experiences. It breaks down the invisible wall that separates them, allowing them to further interact so they can have a better relationship.

But what about learning? Can a child with learning disabilities learn through playing? Contrary to what we are normally taught, that studying is the only way to learn, some children can learn better through play. To them, it feels like a normal thing to do. Moving around lets them use their body to think and touching toys gives them something concrete to work on. However, the aim of play therapy is still to give them the tools to function as a normal child. While the prospect of using play to teach, it is a therapeutic tool that teaches them really how to learn. It shows them the path they should take so they can learn better when they’re older and can’t play anymore.

With counseling staff spread over four locations, Stenzel Clinics is sure to find the right therapist who can help in these areas.

Play therapy uses toys and games to gain the child’s trust. Furthermore, it allows them to be more open and receptive to the therapist.

By Stenzel Clinical Services, Licensed Clinical Social Worker

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