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Play Therapy

What is play therapy and how can my child benefit?

Playing is a child’s natural way of rehearsing for life. Through play, children grow, learn, explore, and develop. They seek fun and interactive ways of tackling life’s emotional, social, physical, and mental challenges.

Incorporating play into therapy is simply taking what children already do naturally and putting it into a therapeutic setting. Play is a child’s language and toys are their words. Just as an adult would come to talk about their feelings, thoughts and behaviors, children express these aspects through their play. Even though most children are verbal when they come to therapy, most are not able to articulate their emotions and thoughts in ways adults and adolescents can. They simply are not developmentally ready! Play therapy is the powerful technique used to help children get what they need out of their therapeutic experience.

Play therapy differs from regular play in that the therapist helps children to address and resolve their own problems. Play therapy builds on the natural way that children learn about themselves and their relationships in the world around them (Axline, 1947; Carmichael, 2006; Landreth, 2002). Play therapy provides children with a safe psychological distance from their problems and allows expression of thoughts.

APT defines play therapy as “the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.”

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 do I know my child needs play therapy?
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, family dissolution, death, relocation, hospitalization, chronic illness, assimilate stressful experiences, physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, and natural disasters (Reddy, Files-Hall & Schaefer, 2005). Also, play therapy helps with anxiety depression, ADHD, Autism, and academic/social development.
How long does play therapy take?
Individual sessions last anywhere from 30-50 mins. The overall duration of play therapy varies from child to child. Your play therapist will help determine the best length of treatment for you and your child.
How can parents be involved?
Parents and families play an important role in the healing process. Children heal faster the more their parents and families can be involved. At a minimum, the therapist will want to communicate regularly with the child’s caretakers to develop a plan for resolving problems as they are identified and to monitor the progress of the treatment. Other options might include involving the parents or caretakers directly in the treatment by modifying how they interact with the child at home or modifying interactions between siblings.
*All content adapted from the Association for Play Therapy.
For more information, please visit their website at or contact our office at (352)332-6131.
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