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The Importance of Play Therapy

Updated: Mar 29, 2023

A child’s mental health is very important, and it is something that should be treated with such delicacy. Young children often have trouble with properly verbally communicating or expressing with adults on what they may be feeling or experiencing due to their young age. Luckily, there are interventions that can help adults understand those emotions that children may be experiencing, which is play therapy.

Play therapy is a therapeutic intervention used in a therapeutic environment that merges play time and psychotherapy together by using toys, such as puppets, building blocks, games, dolls, action figures, stuffed animals, and so on to aid children through their therapy sessions. Play therapy is used to guide children in identifying their emotions, regulating behavior, improving their self-esteem and self-confidence, grieving, coping through a divorce or abandonment, relieving stress, working on their socialization skills, and easing anxiety symptoms, which allows a child to express themselves through toys instead of words. Through play therapy, therapists can also assess and learn more about what a child is going through that may be difficult for that child to verbally express by seeing how the child is playing, what they are reenacting with these toys, and seeing any gestures the child is portraying while playing with these toys. Play therapy allows the therapist to enter the child’s world and understand a bit more on how that child views it by doing what children know best, playing.

Some examples of play therapy include the therapist interacting and playing with the child by using dolls or action figures and asking them on how those dolls/action figures may be feeling at the moment, asking them to act out some problems they may be feeling, setting up a play with puppets to reenact a specific situation where they might have felt uncomfortable, or even creating a “magic wand” with the child and asking them to share three wishes, which one of those wishes will most likely be due to a real life problem they may be experiencing. Play therapy also allows a child to get creative and allows them to tell their own story without feeling like they are being interrogated and provides help in being able to ease those feelings of intimidation and nervousness, while also challenging the child to think creatively and initiate the start of some problem-solving skills.

There are two different types of play therapy, therapist-directive and child-directive. Therapist-directive play therapy involves the therapist picking and choosing specific toys with goals already in mind and leading the play therapy session, while child-directive play therapy is the complete opposite. Child-directive play therapy allows the child to lead the session by the types of toys they pick and are able to play freely without following a set of activities. Both types of play therapy are said to be effective, but child-directive is the most prioritized because it allows the therapist to view the child’s decisions, their behaviors, and their self-exploration. The child feels as if they are in control.

Just like any other type of interventions, child-directed play therapy has its pros and cons as well.

Pros of Play Therapy:

  • Allows the child to be more engaged throughout sessions and look forward to their next reserved session because they are doing something they enjoy doing.

  • The child and therapist are able to build rapport at a much faster rate, which allows the child to feel more comfortable in that environment.

  • Child-directed play therapy allows the child to feel like they are the ones in control for once and are the ones that have the power in demonstrating how they feel in their own way, which is something that may seem impossible for them to do outside of their therapy sessions.

  • This intervention allows the child to work on their self-esteem, make decisions, and promotes their communication and socialization skills without the judgment they are possibly afraid of feeling.

Cons of Play Therapy:

  • Play Therapy in general takes time and is a process, which makes it unsuitable if the child is only allowed to receive a specific amount of therapy sessions. Play therapy cannot sort out issues in a quick efficient way.

  • Working with children can be a bit challenging, especially since their behaviors and thoughts can constantly change, which requires a lot of patience.

  • Children who need more structure and a stricter routine may not be ideal for this type of intervention.

Play therapy has been found to be effective on children due to them not having the same rich verbal skills that adults have. When children express themselves through what they love playing with, they are also able to manage their traumatic experiences by the development of healthy coping strategies. Play therapy has been around for so long and continues to be one of the most effective interventions for children served to disconnect and provide calmness from those overwhelming feelings and experiences.

“When you are free, you can play and when you are playing, you become free.” – Heidi Kaduson

Written by,

Stella Malagon, Intern

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