What is play therapy?
Play therapy is a form of treatment that helps children and families to express their emotions, improve their communication, and solve problems. Play therapy capitalizes on children’s natural ability to express their feelings and resolve conflicts through play. Play therapists use various media, including storytelling, puppet play, drama, music, dance, sand play, painting and drawing, and board games. Play therapy is most appropriate for children ages 4-12 years of age, or with families with children that age.
What happens during play therapy?
At times children and families explore the playroom freely, engaging in spontaneous play. At other points they may involve themselves in specific activities, such as drawing family scenes, using puppets to act out events in the family, creating a scene in a sand tray, telling stories, or playing specially designed therapeutic board games. Children and families also use the opportunity to talk about their feelings, their relationships, and difficulties in their lives.
How is play therapy for individual children and family play therapy different?
Individual child therapy may include family sessions and family therapy may include sessions with individual children, but the main distinction between the two lies in the focus and purpose of treatment. Individual play therapy focuses on healing and strengthening individual children. Through the play as well as the special therapeutic relationship, the therapist helps children to accept their emotions, develop trust and confidence, and improve their behavior. The therapist usually meets separately with parents to give them insight into their child, update them on the child’s progress towards treatment goals, and provide guidance and support. When children and families do meet together, either to talk or to play, sessions usually focus on helping parents to understand and more effectively parent their child.
Family therapy focuses on the enrichment of family relationships and the healing of the family as a whole. Family therapists help family members to deepen their emotional bonds, communicate more effectively, and create more harmonious living environments. Towards these ends, therapists practice play therapy in a variety of formats. They might hold play sessions with siblings, engage in play with an individual parent and child, or play games with the entire family together. They may also engage in individual play with children, with the purpose of illuminating their concerns in order to communicate them to other family members.
How does play therapy effect change?
Play is a natural medium for children and families to express feelings, solve problems, and build skills. Children’s play can uncover their internal conflicts, bring to light negative communication patterns in families, and help children and families to discover new problem-solving techniques and strategies.
What types of problems does play therapy address?
Play therapy can ameliorate the effects of trauma and loss, reduce anxiety and depression, improve children’s behavior, and help children manage social and academic difficulties. Family play therapy can be particularly effective at strengthening family relationships.
Are there different play therapy approaches?
Yes. Therapists usually vary their approach depending on what may most benefit children and families. Play therapists can take a non-directive approach, limiting their interventions to reflecting on clients’ actions and verbalizations. They may also interpret the underlying feelings and conflicts that the play illuminates. At times therapists may actively participate in the play. They may also direct children or families to play specific games that assist them in resolving particular issues. Therapists may also combine the play with “talk time”.
How long does play therapy last?
Twelve sessions seems to be the minimum number of sessions for effecting significant and lasting improvement. Sometimes, children and families can make progress in a shorter time frame if they have already worked with the therapist previously.
How often do children and families attend play therapy sessions?
It is usually best when children and families attend play therapy a minimum of one time per week, at least for the first several sessions. More intense treatment can be helpful for difficult problems. After clients make significant gains, sometimes they can continue to make progress attending sessions one time every two weeks or less.
How effective is play therapy?
Play therapy is one of the most empirically validated forms of therapy for children and families. Some studies indicate that play therapy can exert positive effects for several years after the end of treatment.