Play Therapy is much more than fun and games. Play Therapy is a counseling approach used to help children ages 3 to 12 explore their lives and freely express bottled-up thoughts and emotions through play. Therapeutic play normally takes place in a safe, comfortable playroom encouraging free expression and allowing the therapist to observe the child’s choices, decisions, and play style. The goal is to help children learn to express themselves in healthier ways, become more emotionally balanced, and develop new and more positive ways to interact with others.
According to the professional organization Play Therapy International, up to 71 percent of children referred to play therapy may experience positive change.
Play Therapy responds to the unique developmental needs of young children, who often express themselves better through play activities than through verbal communication. The therapist uses play and other creative activities to communicate with the child and observe how the child uses these activities to express thoughts and feelings that are not expressed in words. There are two approaches to play therapy, nondirective and directive:
- Nondirective Play Therapy is based on the principle that children can resolve their own issues given the right conditions and the freedom to play with limited instruction and supervision.
- Directive Play Therapy has specific goals in mind each session. Using a carefully developed Treatment Plan that focuses on target behaviors and issues. The therapist can introduce new skills and adaptive behaviors to rehearse during sessions. Play therapists use both approaches, depending on the circumstances.
Nondirective play therapists are trained to trust that children are capable of directing their own process rather than the therapist imposing their own ideas of what the child needs to do in therapy to work through any challenges they may be facing. This requires the therapist to enter the emotional world of the child rather than expecting the child to understand the therapist’s world, which is beyond their capabilities.