What is play therapy?
Play therapy is a psychotherapy modality that helps children to express themselves, explore their thoughts and feelings, and make sense of their life experiences. Play is a natural activity of learning, exploration and communication for children, and so a highly effective medium for helping children to ‘play out’ what they may find difficult to put into words.
We work with children of all ages, individually or in groups, providing a safe and trusting environment to help shift perspectives of difficult experiences and increase self-esteem and confidence.
The main aim of play therapy is to equip children with adaptive behaviours and better coping mechanisms for everyday life. This is to help them develop a more positive view of their place in the world.
Play is incredibly important for a child’s development – helping to shape key social, creative, language, emotional, cognitive and physical processes. As a result, play therapy can help children in a variety of ways, although exactly how will depend greatly on the individual needs of each child.
Significantly, play therapy offers children a safe and comfortable space in which they can be themselves and have the emotional support to express their feelings freely. These feelings can then be explored and contained in a healthy way with the help of a play therapist in order to promote resilience and confidence within each child.
Some of the common types of problems play therapists deal with include:
Children who are dealing with parental separation, divorce or conflict.
Children who have witnessed domestic violence.
Children who are in hospital.
Traumatised children who have experienced neglect, sexual, emotional or physical abuse.
Children in care – adoption and fostering.
Children dealing with stressful life experiences such as loss, illness or death of a loved one.
Children who have experienced a serious accident or disaster.
Children who have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD) or Autism Spectrum Disorder
Sessions involve a large selection of play materials provided by the play therapist. These resources will consist of toys like small figures and animals, sand and water, musical instruments, dressing up props, puppets, clay, books and art and craft materials. Rather than encouraging the child to use verbal explanations of what is troubling them, the therapist will help them to express difficult thoughts and feelings through the metaphors of play. This will involve using a range of techniques that help children to become aware of what they are feeling and provide opportunities for them to express these. Awareness is an important part of play therapy because without awareness change cannot take place.
Some of the techniques used in play therapy are:
- creative visualisation
- therapeutic storytelling
- role play
- dance and movement
For this process to be effective, the therapist must work on building a strong therapeutic relationship with the child. It is important that children feel comfortable, safe and respected in play therapy so that they can play confidently and feel at ease sharing their intimate feelings. It is also crucial that the child understands the therapist is accepting of them and supportive throughout the whole process. Ultimately this positive relationship will foster the necessary corrective experience needed to promote cognitive development and help children to resolve inner conflicts and develop new patterns of behaviour and thinking.
Ultimately, play therapy helps to facilitate healing and the development of new patterns of behaviour and thinking that enables children to be more resilient in everyday life. By helping to free children from negative experiences and feelings that block their learning and development, play therapy allows them to see their world in a more positive light.
Some of the specific benefits children can gain from play therapy include:
Reduced anxiety about traumatic events.
Improved confidence and a sense of competence.
Better able to form healthy bonds in relationships.
Improved ability to trust themselves and others.
Improved concentration and ability to learn
Enhanced creativity and playfulness.