Play therapy is to children what counseling is to adults. In play therapy, toys are the child’s words and play is their language.  Using a child’s natural medium of expression allows him/her to identify and share feelings more easily.

Why Play?

Play is a fun, enjoyable activity that elevates our spirits and brightens our outlook on life. It expands self-expression, self-knowledge, self-actualization and self-efficacy. Play relieves feelings of stress and boredom, connects us to people in a positive way, stimulates creative thinking and exploration, regulates our emotions, and boosts our ego.

What is Play Therapy?

Children often have difficulty expressing in words how they feel and how experiences have affected them. Play therapy helps children to sort out upsetting feelings and events at their own developmental level and at their own pace. Rather than verbally explaining what is bothering them, as in adult counseling, children use play to communicate. Since play is fun, it makes it easier for children to confront what is bothering them.

Play therapy differs from regular play in that the therapist consciously provides a safe, accepting and caring environment where children can fully be themselves and resolve their own problems. When children feel understood, they share more of themselves. As a child-centered play therapist, I believe in a child’s inherent tendency toward positive growth. Through play therapy, children learn to communicate with others, express feelings, modify behavior, and develop problem-solving skills. 

How Does Play Therapy Work?

Once children have used up their own problem-solving tools, they often behave in ways that cause concern. Children are referred for play therapy to resolve these problems. Play therapy allows a trained mental health practitioner to observe how a child plays and reflect on the child’s feelings in a nonjudgmental way.  Further, play therapy is utilized to help children cope with difficult emotions and find solutions to problems. By confronting problems in the play therapy setting, children find healthier solutions. Play therapy allows children to change the way they think about, feel toward, and resolve their concerns.

How Will Play Therapy Benefit My Child? 

Research supports the effectiveness of play therapy with children experiencing a wide variety of social, emotional, behavioral, and learning problems, including children whose problems are related to life stressors, such as divorce, death, relocation, hospitalization, chronic illness, physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, and natural disasters. Although everyone benefits, play therapy is especially appropriate for children ages 3 through 12 years old. Play therapy helps children:

  • Become more responsible for behaviors and develop more successful strategies.
  • Develop new and creative solutions to problems.
  • Develop respect and acceptance of self and others.
  • Learn to experience and express emotion.
  • Cultivate empathy and respect for thoughts and feelings of others.
  • Learn new social skills and relational skills with family.
  • Develop self-efficacy and thus a better assuredness about their abilities.

How Long Does Play Therapy Last?

Each play therapy session varies in length but commonly last about 30 to 50 minutes. Sessions are usually held weekly. Research suggests that it takes an average of 20 play therapy sessions to resolve the problems of the typical child referred for treatment. Of course, some children improve much faster while more serious or ongoing problems may take longer to resolve.  

How May My Family Be Involved in Play Therapy?

Families play an important role in a child's healing processes. Although the interaction between a child's problems and his/her family families is always complex, in all cases children and families heal faster when they work together. I will communicate regularly with you to develop a plan for resolving problems as they are identified and to monitor the progress of the treatment. In some cases parents are directly involved in treatment or are given guidance on modifying how they interact with their children at home. 

Adapted from Association for Play Therapy (APT)