What is Play Therapy?
Play Therapy refers to a large number of treatment methods, all of which make use of one or more of the natural benefits of play. All Play Therapy differs from regular play in that the therapist helps children systematically address and resolve their own problems. Since play is fun, it makes it easier for children to confront what is bothering them. Play allows them a safe psychological distance from their problems through play, the therapist will be better able to help them find solutions to their problems and allows them to express their true thoughts and feelings in ways best suited to their development level.
In recent years a growing number of noted psychologists and psychiatrists have observed that play is as important to human happiness and well-being as love and work. Some of the greatest thinkers of all time, including Aristotle and Plato, have reflected on why play is so fundamental in our lives. The following are some of the many benefits of play that have been described by play theorists. Play is a fun, enjoyable activity that elevates our spirits and brightens our outlook on life. It expands self-expression, self-knowledge, and self-actualizations. Play relieves feelings of of stress and boredom, connects us to people in a positive way, stimulates creative thinking and exploration, regulates our emotions, and boosts our ego. In addition, play allows us to practice -- in a safe environment -- skills and roles needed for survival. Learning and development are best fostered through play.
Therapists use the curative powers inherent in play in many ways. They may employ the language of play to help children express what is troubling them when they cannot say their thoughts and feelings in words. Through play, therapists may teach children more adaptive behaviors when there are emotional or social skills deficits. The positive relationship that develops between therapists and child during play sessions may provide a corrective emotional experience or serve to release the natural healing resources that lie within the child. Play may also be used to promote cognitive development and provide insight about inner conflicts or dysfunctional thinking in the child.
Children are brought into Play Therapy to safely address and resolve their problems. Often, by the time children arrive for therapy, they have used up all of their own options for solving their problems and simply do not know what else to do. By this time, children may be acting out at home, with friends, and at school. Play Therapy allows trained professionals to assess and understand children's play and to use it in assisting the child in coping with difficult emotions and in finding solutions to their problems. By safely confronting their problems in the protected Play Therapy environment, children find creative solutions. Play Therapy allows children to change the way they think about, feel toward, and resolve their problems. Even the most troubling problems can be confronted in Play Therapy and lasting resolutions can be discovered, rehearsed, and adapted into the child's life.
While play is a natural process for children, play and Play Therapy can be helpful to people of all ages with a variety of presenting concerns.
Play Therapy is therapy that involves some form of play (the natural language of children and “the child within”) or other expressive modality, as opposed to therapies that focus more exclusively on verbal expression.
Play therapy is no longer a single form of therapy, with a single universal language, set of beliefs, assumptions, theories and methods.
The term “Play Therapy” may have nearly as many subsets as the term “psychotherapy”
Play Therapy often, but not always, involves the use of some type of play material(s)
Play therapy involves a variety of forms and communication in the child’s natural language of play and metaphor
Tenets for Relating to Children
Children are not miniature adults and the therapist does not respond to them as if they were.
Children are people. They are capable of experiencing deep emotional pain and joy.
Children are unique and worthy of respect. The therapist prizes the uniqueness of each child and respects the person they are.
Children are resilient. Children possess tremendous capacity to overcome obstacles and circumstances in their lives.
Children have an inherent tendency toward growth and maturity. They possess an inner intuitive wisdom.
Children are capable of positive self-direction. They are capable of dealing with their world in creative ways.
Children’s natural language is play and this is the medium of self-expression with which they are most comfortable.
Children have the right to remain silent. The therapist respects a child’s decision not to talk.
Children will take the therapeutic experience to where they need to be. The therapist does not attempt to determine when or how a child should play.
Children’s growth cannot be speeded up. The therapist recognizes this and is patient with the child’s developmental process.
Typical goals of Play Therapy
Clients will learn to:
Feel supported, accepted, validated, empowered and safe
Appreciate themselves and express feelings, thoughts, and inner conflicts
Increase their understanding of their own feelings, their thoughts, themselves and how they operate in different situations.
Determine which aspects of how they operate are working and not working, they will learn about other people and the world around them, safe relationships and environments, and how to integrate and use pain.
Clients will explore and develop:
More positive communication skills
More positive ways to vent feelings
New skills for dealing with conflicts
New approaches to life and relationships
Ways to create safer relationships and environments
Clients will be empowered to:
Develop trust/intimacy in a safe relationship
Develop self respect
Change their view of self and others
Change their behavior
Change their expectations
Be open to the possibility of joy
Common themes in Children’s Play: