When adults come to therapy, they can adequately express themselves
using their words and having discussions with their therapist; however, when children come to therapy this may not be the case. Many children do not have the words to express what there are experiencing at home, at school, with friends, etc. Further, children may not be aware of what they are feeling because they do not yet understand what different emotions feel like. Therefore, they would need an outlet which allows them to talk without using words, and without being restricted by a lack of cognitive development. Play therapy helps eliminate these barriers that children face when they come to therapy.
Play therapy allows children to express themselves with the use of toys and actions. It occurs in a safe and caring environment where the child is allowed to play freely with minimal limitations (e.g. safety precautions). Sometimes a therapist may prompt the child’s play during a session; however, most therapists allow children to play with the toys they want, how they want. Play therapy should not make a child feel that they are in therapy or that they are being analyzed. Sessions can last anywhere from 30-50 minutes, depending on the child. A play therapy session can include just the child, the child and their parents, or the entire family, depending on the situation that brings the child in for therapy.
One question to consider when seeking a play therapist for your child is, “Does my child feel comfortable with the therapist?” Because the child will need to express himself/herself through play, it is important for your child to feel safe and comfortable with the therapist. If your child does not feel safe, then play therapy will not be effective.
For parents, this random play may appear to be pointless, because it is “something that children can do at home.” But, when play is done in a therapeutic setting, it will allow the child to process through their experiences and then begin to heal. One explanation for this is that children unconsciously (or consciously) act out whatever they are experiencing in their life, and when a therapist is present, they can reflect back to the child things that they notice (e.g. it seems like the doll doesn’t have any friends to play with, that’s lonely). This reflection helps give the child words to express their experiences, as well as helping the child feel understood and validated.
Play therapy allows adults access to a child’s world. Using toys and actions the therapist can communicate with the child wherever the child is at in their cognitive development. Further, it allows the therapist to help facilitate the healing process by understanding the child and responding back in the way the child needs. Children need to feel validated and heard as much as adults do; play therapy is one way to do this. Children deserve to have a life where they are not burdened by life’s problems, and play therapy is one way to help unburden your child.
Written by – Lexi Lee, MS, LAMFT
Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness