About Play Therapy

The Top 5 Questions About Play Therapy

I have met many parents who are interested in getting their child help with their emotions or behaviors, but often are confused about what play therapy is and if it’s right for their child.

I have seen from firsthand experience the effectiveness of play therapy, especially when used with other relational, evidence-based techniques.

Here are some answers to the five most common questions about play therapy.

  1. What is play therapy?

Play therapy is a therapeutic approach to counseling, specifically aimed at helping children with emotional, social, and behavioral problems. Play therapists use children’s natural means of communication–play—to foster a safe and accepting environment where children can heal and grow. Toys in a playroom are carefully selected to allow children opportunities for creativity and imagination, mastery of skills, nurturing, and real-life processing through play.

  1. What does a play therapy session look like?

When children come to play therapy, it is very much the same as when an adult gets counseling. When most people think of an adult getting counseling, they imagine someone sitting down, talking to a therapist. The therapist pays attention to patterns in the client’s life, helps reframe certain ideas, reflect feelings, and even teach the client therapeutic techniques to help manage symptoms. The client feels this is a safe place to express himself or herself, talk about intimate details of his or her life, and process events that have, or are currently, happening. For children, they might use words and other times they use play or art to communicate and express thoughts and emotions. Similar to working with adults, the play therapist will reflect children’s feelings and point out patterns, likes, and dislikes that they notice. They may also teach children techniques to help them identify feelings, cope with their anger, or socialize at school. And most importantly, the playroom is set up to be a safe place for children to express themselves and process various things in their lives. As in adult therapy, a safe and accepting therapeutic relationship is key to the client’s success.

  1. Who can be helped by play therapy?

Play therapy is intended to help children with a wide range of social, emotional, and behavioral problems. These include adjustment to trauma or major life changes, hyperactivity and attention disorders, anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and social skills. The techniques in therapy will vary, depending on the age of the child, so often there is no age limitation for those who can benefit from play therapy.

  1. How long will my child need to be in therapy?

The length of therapy varies for every child, and there are several factors to consider when determining how long a child might need theapy. These include willingness to participate in the therapeutic process, consistency with attendance, past and current environmental factors, support systems in place, and the nature and duration of the symptoms.

  1. What qualities should I look for in a child therapist?

  • Knowledgeable: Your therapist should be knowledgeable in child development as well as in the problems and concerns you present. Specialized training in working with children, such as a certification in play therapy, is also important. Children are a very special population and require a treatment approach geared towards their developmental level.
  • Loves Children: This sounds obvious, but it is too important not to include. A therapist who claims to work with children should love children! Trust me when I say that your child will know if their therapist is not enthusiastic about them or their play.
  • Parent Involvement: Your child’s therapist should show a willingness to communicate with you regularly. This communication can include feedback from the child’s treatment, parenting techniques, and suggestions for helping your child outside of the session. Parents should also feel open to asking a therapist questions and sharing regular updates on how things are going at home and at school.
  • Coordinates Care with Other Professionals:Children who attend school or daycare are likely exhibiting their behaviors in the classroom. In fact, many parents seek counseling because their children’s teachers have expressed concerns and want help as well. It may also be important for a therapist to communicate with your child’s pediatrician, especially if medication is involved. A willingness to collaborate with your child’s teachers, doctor, or other providers can further foster their success outside of the playroom.
  • Establishes Good Rapport:Just like any other relationship, you will connect with some therapists and not with others. Especially in a field where you are entrusting this professional with intimate details of yourself and your life, you want someone you trust and are comfortable with. Your child will feel the same in their sessions, so be sure they enjoy being with that individual.

Please visit the Association for Play Therapy website for more information about play therapy.

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