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Play Therapy

Play therapy is a psychotherapeutic treatment approach specifically developed to help children between the ages of 3-12 years old. A play therapist works with a child to explore and resolve problems through the therapeutic use of play. Child and therapist work together in a counselling space called a playroom, which is equipped with specially chosen toys that will encourage safe expression of feelings and also support the development of healthier behaviours.

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Why Play in Therapy?

Play therapy helps children in the following ways: 

  • Facilitating healing from past stressful or traumatic experiences 

  • Allowing the expression of feelings 

  • Encouraging creative thoughts and new ideas 

  • Allowing the development of healthy decision-making skills 

  • Enabling the communication of problems and concerns to others 

  • Supporting the learning of new ways of thinking and behaving 

 

In play, children will use their imaginations and express themselves symbolically through the toys. This means that experiences that have impacted the child in some way will show up as play behaviours. For example, a child who has been in a car accident may play by crashing toy cars together. A child who has seen his parents fighting may use puppets to act out these conflicts seen at home. In play therapy then, children are allowed to express, using toys, all the things they have difficulty saying, or may even be unable to say at all, with words. 

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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).

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