Play Therapy: What is it and How Does it Work?
By: Alyssa White, MS, LCMHCA, NCC
“Play is a child’s language and toys are their words” –Gary Landreth
What is Play Therapy?
You may have heard the term “play therapy” thrown around, but what exactly does it mean? Who is it for? And how do we know that it works?
From the outside, play therapy might just look like your child has a bunch of fun in a room full of toys for the length of their therapy session. And yes, play therapy IS a lot of fun! Play therapy is also a structured, evidence-based form of psychotherapy that is used to foster growth and work through areas of concern at a developmentally appropriate level.
More simply, play therapy meets children where they are. Rather than expecting kids to engage in therapy the way adults would; play therapy allows the therapist to join the child in their world, on their level.
For example: As adults, we usually express ourselves and our feelings with our words.
Kids, on the other hand, don’t typically have the self-awareness and emotional vocabulary to tell you exactly how they are feeling in words. They might not even know what they are feeling themselves. But, kids certainly have a lot to share if you can learn to speak their language – play.
How Does Play Therapy Work?
Mr. Rogers is quoted as saying “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play really is the work of childhood.”
In terms of play therapy, the “work” that is being done can include:
- strengthening communication skills
- modeling and practicing social skills
- practicing problem-solving skills
- developing emotion regulation skills
- addressing behavioral concerns
- working through symptoms of anxiety
- dealing with grief and loss
- increasing self-esteem
- and more!
Using toys in a therapeutic environment allows children to play out social scenarios, express feelings, solve problems, practice turn-taking, and develop other important life skills. Children’s play can also shine a light on their internal conflicts, self-talk, unspoken anxieties, and negative communication patterns.
Through the toys they choose to play with, the ways they engage with those toys, and the themes and patterns that emerge across their repetitive play behaviors, therapists trained in play therapy can gather insights about what is going on in a child’s world from the child’s perspective.
Who is Play Therapy For?
Play therapy is most often used with children between the ages of 3 and 12. However, play isn’t just for kids and neither is play therapy! Play therapy has been found to be effective not only in children of all ages but also in teens and adults.
If play therapy sounds like it might be a good fit for your child or if you would like more information, contact Child & Family Development and ask about setting up a session with a counselor!