What is Play Therapy?
Learning the Details
Play Therapy is the ideal therapeutic model for children dealing with all sorts of emotional and behavioral challenges. This includes navigating divorce, death, anxiety, trauma, anger, and generally difficult life transitions. Play is the language of children. Through the use of play materials and toys children are able to communicate not only what they are feeling but how they are perceiving the world around them. Toys allow children to freely explore feelings and situations they are navigating in a safe and empowering way.
The play therapy space is equipped with toys that reflect a wide range of themes and experiences that kids will explore such as families, emotions, social interactions, nurture, danger, safety, aggression, etc.
The play therapist will provide tools and create a space that allow your child to express and process emotions and experiences. This will allow your child to gain emotional mastery and develop strategies to cope with difficult situations.
What to Expect of Your Child's Play Therapy Session?
A little about what the visit will be like.
Play therapy can be an awkward process for parents. It is generally the first time that you will walk into an office and hand your little one over to someone else and you won't have a "play by play" of what exactly took place during their time together. It is absolutely normal to be curious about what conversations took place behind the play room door or what your child's experience was like. However, a huge part of the effectiveness of play therapy is allowing the child to feel that this is his or her private space. The play therapist will certainly set appropriate boundaries for safety but generally, the play room is a place where your child can feel free to play, choose whatever toys, and express him/herself without restriction. This allows your child to get the most out of the therapy experience. Just as adults must be able to count on confidentiality, so do children. In order for the therapy to work, your child has to be able to trust the play therapist. There's good news though. The play therapist will typically schedule parent sessions to keep you updated on progress and share ways that you can support your child's therapy process.
Parents Do's and Dont's for Play Therapy
DO accept that play is therapeutic in its own right, and that although a play therapy session may seem like “just playing” to adults, it is actually a powerful and essential therapy tool for children.
DO keep in mind that sometimes therapy sessions for children include things that at first look may not seem like therapy, such as playing card games or checkers. These activities provide a way for therapists to develop a relationship with a child, create a comfortable background activity for talking about important issues, and address concerns such as fairness, social skills, and acceptance of winning and losing.
DON’T ask your child to explain what they did in a session. Just as when we ask children what they did at school, they are likely to say “I don’t know” – this is in part because it is difficult for them to process verbally, in part because children sometimes feel interrogated and defensive when asked questions, and also because they want privacy. Instead, say something like “I hope you enjoyed your session today,” or “I am glad you have ________ to help you.” These open-ended statements are more likely to result in input from a child than a direct question.
DO let your child’s therapist know if you need more information about the play therapy sessions or have questions about them. They want to include you and want to understand your needs regarding frequency of feedback.
DON’T assign your child a task or agenda for the session, such as “make sure you tell the therapist about___________, or don’t forget to work on _______________.” Most of the time children eagerly look forward to their time with their therapist, and hearing from their parent what they “should” do can reduce the feeling of freedom and safety they have in a session. Instead, ask for some time with the therapist to provide your input about goals for the therapy.
You can learn more about play therapy from the Association for Play Therapy’s
website, www.a4pt.org and by talking with your child’s therapist about any questions or concerns you have.