Just as an adult participates in counseling by talking to a therapist, Child-Centered Play Therapy is based on the premise that “play is a child’s natural language, and the toys are their words” Most children have difficulty communicating complex emotions verbally in order to process and work through them. Child-Centered play therapy is a therapeutic outlet to allow age-appropriate expression of thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Play therapy involves a trained mental health practitioner who specializes in play therapy to create a safe place within the playroom so that the child is able to communicate through play their experiences, feelings, and self-concept. The therapist involves the parent(s) or caregivers throughout the play therapy process independently of child’s play therapy session to support the parent(s) or caregiver, develop a plan for resolving problems expressed, and discusses the progress in treatment.
How Does Play Therapy Work?
When children are experiencing adverse personal issues they will often act out or engage in inappropriate behavior. Parents may be eager to help but may find it difficult or impossible to offer effective aid if a child is unable or unwilling to discuss the problem. Play therapy is thought to be one of the most beneficial means of helping children who are experiencing emotional or behavioral challenges. Though the approach may benefit people of all ages, it is specially designed to treat children under 12. A typical session may last for 30-45 minutes and may be conducted with one child only or in groups.
During treatment, the therapist creates a comfortable, safe environment in which the child is allowed to play with as few limits as possible. This counseling space is often referred to as a playroom, and it comes equipped with a selection of specifically chosen toys that are meant to encourage the child to express his or her feelings and develop healthier behaviors. The child’s interactions with these toys essentially serve as the child’s symbolic words. This allows the therapist to learn about specific thoughts and emotions that a child may find difficult or impossible to express verbally.
Toys used in therapy may include a sandbox with associated miniature figurines, art materials, Legos or other construction toys, costumes or other clothing, stuffed animals, dolls, a dollhouse with miniature furniture, puppets, indoor sports equipment, and other indoor games. The therapist may also incorporate the use of tools and techniques such as clay, therapeutic storytelling, music, dance and movement, drama/role play, and creative visualization.
At first children in therapy are generally allowed to play as they wish. As treatment progresses, the therapist may begin to introduce specific items or play activities which are related to the issues the child is facing. Play therapy may benefit the child in a variety of ways such as encouraging creativity, promoting healing from traumatic events, facilitating the expression of emotions, encouraging the development of positive decision-making skills, introducing new ways of thinking and behaving, learning problem-solving skills, developing better social skills, and facilitating the communication of personal problems or concerns.
Play therapy may be nondirective or directive. Nondirective play therapy is grounded in the idea that if allowed optimal therapeutic conditions and the freedom to play, children in therapy will be able to resolve issues on their own. This approach is viewed as non-intrusive since there is minimal instruction from the therapist regarding how a child should engage in play. Directed play therapy involves much greater input from the therapist and is based on the belief that faster therapeutic results may be obtained than in nondirective play therapy sessions