What Is Play Therapy

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Your child is old enough to have strong opinions about what brand of chicken nuggets your buy, but not old enough to have an in depth conversation about their emotional world.  Your child has experienced a life-changing event, like a new sibling, divorce, or loss in the family, and you aren’t sure how he or she is taking it.  You are noticing behavior differences when you compare your child to their peers at school, but you aren’t sure what could be causing it.  It sounds like your child may be a candidate for play therapy!

You might be wondering – why would I pay a therapist to play with my child – they play at home, for free!  This post is here to break down what play therapy is, and how it may help.

What Is Play Therapy?

The Association for Play Therapy defines Play Therapy as “the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.”  This means that play therapy is used by trained professionals to help children, usually between the ages of 3-12, who are experiencing behavioral or emotional difficulties.  Using toys and other types of props, children work with a therapist to express emotions and find ways to solve problems.  You may see, in your play therapist’s room, items such as sand or water trays, small figurines of people and animals, dolls, puppets, dollhouses, art supplies, cars, games, and dress up toys.

A play therapist is there to provide a safe environment where a child expresses themselves through play.  the theory is that a child can act their emotions out through play easier than they can express them verbally, and so a child is just doing what comes naturally.  The therapist then helps the child understand the emotions, and begin processing and problem solving.

How does it work?

Play therapy is best tailored to an individual need of a child.  Working on specific problem areas, and meeting the child with unconditional positive regard and genuineness, helps a child have an outlet when words just aren’t sufficient.  Often, children will repeat scenes or themes within the play, providing the therapist with a window on a child processing through a trauma.  Other times, the rules, or the lack of rules, within a play session are they key for unlocking better listening behaviors, or decreasing perfectionist behaviors.  A play therapist will often want to have a separate session with parents to help emphasize some of the skills learned, clue a parent in on some of the repeating themes in play, and provide skills for the parents to help reinforce therapy progress.

For more information about play therapy, and to determine if play therapy is right for your child, check out our providers, and see how Therapy Hive can help!

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