What is play therapy ?
Play therapy is an approach used by therapists to help children express their thoughts and emotions. Therapists use toys to engage children and help them communicate through play, a response that feels more safe and natural to them. Used with patients from ages 3 to 12 years of age, it can help children learn better ways to communicate, solve problems, modify behavior and relate to others.
Therapeutic play allows the therapist to analyze the child's moods and behaviors along with how they make decisions, process emotions and express their feelings. Typically play therapy is used in a playroom setting, a less structured environment where the child can feel more relaxed and comfortable.
Play therapy is used to treat a range of social, emotional and behavioral disorders and help children cope with stressful experiences, including:
- anxiety disorders
- attention deficit hyperactivity
- oppositional defiant and conduct disorders
- anger management
- autism spectrum
- grief and loss
- domestic violence
- physical and sexual abuse
- physical disabilities
- learning disabilities
How does it work?
Talking about complex feelings and emotions can be difficult for children. With limited cognitive and verbal skills it can be tough to find words to express their thoughts.
Through play children can create characters and use role play to act out scenes. Using toys as characters they can create stories to communicate stressful situations giving the therapist a chance to observe behavior and emotional response.
There are two types of play therapy:
- Nondirective (child-centered) play therapy follows the belief that children can solve their own problems when allowed the space and freedom to play without instruction. Therapists quietly observe without giving guidance or direction.
- Directive play therapy uses therapist guided strategies to engage the child, often with a particular topic in mind.
Play Therapy Toys
Here are a few toys therapists use:
- figurines and action figures
- musical toys
- kitchen and food toys
- paint and drawing materials
Benefits of Play Therapy
Research has shown that play therapy can be very beneficial to children and their families. Studies report that treatment yielded:
- less behavioral problems
- improved academic performance
- less hyperactivity in children with ADHD
- gains in independent problem-solving
- new social skills and increased empathy for others
- less aggression
- less anxiety and depression
Play Therapy Near Me
Visit the Association for Play Therapy to find a therapist near you