If you think back to your childhood, you may find memories of enjoyable times when you took delight in games, puzzles, toys, puppets, sand boxes, hula hoops, punching bags, or dollhouses. Those toys, games, puppets and sand were your words, and play was your language. Play is fundamental to human happiness as it lifts our spirits and changes our outlook on life. For a time, we escape our problems and immerse ourselves in the world of imagination. Through play, we learned to communicate with others, found our way in the world, developed skills for problem-solving and sharing, used our innate creativity, expressed our feelings and felt better about ourselves. It can help with depression, impulsiveness, aggression, anxiety, fears, worry, low self-esteem, social withdrawal, and school and work problems.
What are the benefits of play therapy?
Play therapy creates a space for a person to return to that childhood world and explore through play. Play therapy can be effective in these ways, and others:
- Reduces stress
- Encourages communication
- Offers a space for expression of feelings
- Builds trust and mastery
- Fosters learning and acceptable behaviors
- Regulates emotion
- Develops creative problem-solving skills and tools for survival
- Elevates spirit and self-esteem
Although play therapy is most often used with children, there are exceptions. Play therapy can be helpful to people with disabilities; those for whom drama, games, and imagination are important; and older adults. It can help with depression, impulsiveness, aggression, anxiety, fears, worry, low self-esteem, social withdrawal, and school and work problems.
What happens in a play therapy session?
Since children often have difficulty expressing themselves in words, the child therapist will use the language that the child is most comfortable with - the language of childhood. This often includes movement and play. This is why your child will often respond to your questions about what happened in therapy with a remark such as, “We played.” Be assured that play is a rich source of information about your child and his or her concerns. The therapist will observe, notice, respond, and process with your child in order to address those concerns.
At times the therapist may direct the activity and suggest focusing on a particular feeling that has come up in the session; on other occasions, the child may be permitted to take charge of the activity. The therapist creates a safe and predictable space for the child to express feelings. The child begins to trust that his or her expressions are valued and an alliance is formed with the therapist. From this alliance, the child feels safe to notice and appreciate feelings, express those feelings without fear of recrimination, and make decisions about moving forward in ways that match what it is the child wants for his or her life.
More information on play therapy:
Association for Play Therapy websitehttp://www.a4pt.org/ps.index.cfm?ID=1653
Association for Play Therapy, short video introduction to the value of play therapyhttps://www.youtube.com/embed/_4ovwAdxCs0
Association for Play Therapy, what is play therapyhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhFhfamS_uI&list=UU0DXBcxC-d63IZDtMzzFotA