Play Therapy? Are you unsure of exactly what that means? When people ask what I do for a living and I them I am a Play Therapist, I almost always get the response, “What is that?” Well, there are a lot of ways to explain it, but the most basic one is that I use toys, art, and games to help children who have going through something difficult.
Play therapy is a type of mental health counseling for children (primarily) that uses a specially designed playroom to help children express feelings without relying on words. It is a developmentally sensitive approach to treating children that allows a child to take the active role in what is expressed during counseling by using dolls, puppets, real-life toys, art and games. Here is a look at my play therapy room in Cordova, TN.
There are many ways to conduct play therapy sessions. Most sessions are either directive or non-directive. Directive play therapy means that the therapist chooses an activity (an art project, game, or role-play) that is designed to help a child deal with a specific problem. My Inside Out Feelings Activity is an example of a directive play therapy intervention designed to teach children how to label feelings and identify how it impacts their body. In non-directive play therapy, the child chooses all of the activities and the therapist responds during the play in ways that help facilitate the expression of emotion or that promote self-esteem in the child.
Play therapy works best on children ages 3-11; however, it can be used with older children, especially if the child has a history of trauma or has a developmental delay. In addition, play therapy has been used with adults, for marriage counseling and for seniors. Play therapy works for a variety of presenting problems including impulsivity, anger, mood disruptions, aggressive behaviors, anxiety, depression and all sorts of trauma. Most children will seem some benefit from play therapy.
That’s OK! In non-directive play therapy, choosing not to play is an allowable choice. It is not viewed as non-compliance or defiance. In fact, a child that is able to exert his power and choose not to play is actually communicating a lot of valuable information to the therapist. By allowing this behavior in the playroom, the therapist is demonstrating that the child really is in charge of the therapy and building an essential level of trust for the more difficult work that will come later. In all of my experience, I have not met a child that doesn’t start playing after a few sessions.
In play therapy, there are often a few other things that are worth knowing before your first appointment.
Children with a history of trauma or a more severe mental health diagnosis may participate in therapy for longer periods of time. The specifics of your child’s treatment plan will be individually created based on your specific needs and re-evaluated during parent consultations held regularly throughout the treatment.
The Association for Play Therapy is the main resource. Here you can search for a Registered Play Therapist (a person with specialized training and supervision). They now have a parent resource center as well. Their website is www.a4pt.org . They also produce this really funny video called Introducing Andrew.
Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at firstname.lastname@example.org
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