Play Therapy

Play therapy is 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 (Association for Play Therapy).

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Why Play in Therapy?

Play therapy is a structured, theoretically based approach to therapy that builds on the normal communicative and learning processes of children (Carmichael, 2006; Landreth, 2002; O'Connor & Schaefer, 1983). The curative powers inherent in play are used in many ways. Therapists strategically utilize play therapy to help children express what is troubling them when they do not have the verbal language to express their thoughts and feelings (Gil, 1991). In play therapy, toys are like the child's words and play is the child's language (Landreth, 2002). Through play, therapists may help children learn more adaptive behaviors when there are emotional or social skills deficits (Pedro-Carroll & Reddy, 2005). The positive relationship that develops between therapist and child during play therapy sessions can provide a corrective emotional experience necessary for healing (Moustakas, 1997). Play therapy may also be used to promote cognitive development and provide insight about and resolution of inner conflicts or dysfunctional thinking in the child (O'Connor & Schaefer, 1983; Reddy, Files-Hall, & Schaefer, 2005).

Information taken from Association for Play Therapy.

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How will play therapy benefit my child?

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 take?

Each play therapy session usually last about 30 to 50 minutes. 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 may improve much faster while more serious or ongoing problems may take longer to resolve (Carmichael, 2006; Landreth, 2002).

How may my family be involved in play therapy?

Families play an important role in children's healing processes. The interaction between children's problems and their families is always complex. Sometimes children develop problems as a way of signaling that there is something wrong in the family. Other times the entire family becomes distressed because the child's problems are so disruptive. In all cases, children and families heal faster when they work together. The play therapist will make some decisions about how and when to involve some or all members of the family in the play therapy. 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 a) the parents or caretakers directly in the treatment by modifying how they interact with the child at home and b) the whole family in family play therapy (Guerney, 2000). Whatever the level of involvement of the family members, they typically play an important role in the child's healing (Carey & Schaefer, 1994; Gil & Drewes, 2004).

Who practices play therapy?

The practice of play therapy requires extensive specialized education, training, and experience. A play therapist is a licensed mental health professional who has earned a Master's or Doctorate degree in a mental health field with considerable general clinical experience and supervision.
With advanced, specialized training, experience, and supervision, mental health professionals may also earn the Certified Play Therapist (CPT) or Certified Play Therapist-Supervisor (CPT-S) conferred by the Canadian Association for Play Therapy (CAPT).