What is Play Therapy?
Play therapy is play as a form of therapy, which can help children with emotional and behavioural difficulties to make sense of their life experiences and thereby change the way they feel, and how they behave. Play Therapy helps children understand muddled feelings and upsetting events that they haven’t had the chance to sort out properly. Rather than having to explain what is troubling them, as adult therapy usually expects, children use play to communicate at their own level and at their own pace, without feeling interrogated or threatened.
Young children communicate through play. Pretend play allows children to assume the control they so rarely experience living in a world run by adults. They are free to express their emotional experience—what it feels like to be them.
How can Play Therapy help children?
Play is vital to every child’s social, emotional, cognitive, physical, creative and language development. It helps make learning concrete for all children and young people including those for whom verbal communication may be difficult.
Play therapy helps children work through difficult emotions. It helps them feel heard and seen, and for children, it often manifests in improved behavior at school or a reduction of overwhelming anxiety. Working through the threads of the underlying feelings in play therapy can be deeply reparative.
Play Therapy helps children in a variety of ways. Children receive emotional support and can learn to understand more about their own feelings and thoughts. Sometimes they may re-enact or play out traumatic or difficult life experiences in order to make sense of their past and cope better with their future. Children may also learn to manage relationships and conflicts in more appropriate ways. By doing so in a safe, protected, confidential space, the child has the freedom to freely express themselves and “process” their deepest unconscious thoughts. Individual play therapy focuses on healing and strengthening individual children. Through the play as well as the special therapeutic relationship, the therapist helps children to accept their emotions, develop trust and confidence, and improve their behaviour.
The outcomes of Play Therapy may be general e.g. a reduction in anxiety and raised self-esteem, or more specific such as a change in behaviour and improved relations with family and friends