At first, play therapy may sound like a strange concept, but researchers have found that playing is essential for human happiness. Adults might seem skeptical of sending their child to therapy to “just play,” but play therapists can help children just as much as a traditional therapist can help adults. Similar to counseling for adults, play therapy lets kids express themselves in a more comfortable way. Children often can’t find the words to explain how they’re feeling, so they can instead convey emotions while playing with toys.
What Happens During Play Therapy?
Therapist Susan Scheftel, Ph.D., says that she allows children to play with any of the toys she has in her office, including board games, dolls, blocks, and crayons. She says that watching children engage in play is often a look into what they’re feeling and that when kids can “play it out,” difficult behaviors often disappear. For example, a child who witnessed their parents fighting may create peaceful, happy scenes with dolls in a dollhouse. A child who might act out at school may become calm and patient after playing.
Scheftel does mention that every child is different, so bringing your child to more than one session of play therapy is crucial. It takes time to understand each child’s communication methods and for the child to feel comfortable with the therapist.
What Kind of Children do Therapists Work With?
Play therapy can be used for people of all ages, with even some adults embracing elements of play therapy, but most commonly it’s used for children between the ages of 3 and 12. Play therapists help children develop more appropriate behaviors to tough situations, manage their emotions, socialize properly with others, learn better coping skills, and express their own feelings.
Play therapy is also one of the most effective methods of helping children manage mental illnesses and learn how to cope with difficult life events. If your child has experienced a major life crisis or was diagnosed with a mental disorder such as depression or anxiety, they will likely experience the multiple benefits play therapy has to offer.
Pros of Play Therapy
Play therapy is often between just the therapist and the child, allowing them to freely express themselves without worrying about what their parents are thinking of their behavior. This type of private interaction can help build a child’s trust with their therapist and eventually get to the root of their difficulties. Parents who don’t understand why their child is experiencing certain behaviors or if their child’s problems are unknown, play therapy can be a huge help. In some cases, the family may be involved in sessions of play therapy, or the therapist may suggest how the family can use techniques of play therapy at home. The Association for Play Therapy also lists the following benefits play therapy can have on children:
Potential Negative Impacts of Play Therapy
Like with any profession, not all therapists are created equal. The experiences your child will have in play therapy will mostly depend on the abilities of their therapist. If your child doesn’t like the therapist or the therapist isn’t able to connect with your child, play therapy will seem ineffective. Take the time to shop around for a great therapist before scheduling an appointment for your child. Finding the right therapist for your child is the most important part, but there a few potential drawbacks of play therapy:
For more information on various therapy methods, visit Oakville Wellness Center.
By: Dr. Syras Derksen