Play therapy explained


Date: 27 June 2021

By: Gaby Shapiro

  • Reading time: 25 Mins

Play therapy offers a child their own private space to work through any emotional, social and/or behavioural difficulties they might be experiencing. In using play, a child engages the natural means through which children learn and express many of their feelings.

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, children use play to communicate at their own level and at their own pace, without feeling interrogated or threatened. 

How can play therapy help my child?

Play is vital to every child’s social, emotional, cognitive, physical, create 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 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.

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.

What can you expect from the play therapy process?

  • –The time in the play therapy room is a special private time for the child. The child should not feel that they need to report back to anyone, even parents.
  • –Like all clients involved in the therapy process, children need confidentiality. As parents, you will receive feedback from the therapist; however, you might not always know exactly what is going on in the sessions. If asked, your child will generally tell you that he or she just played.

What happens during Play Therapy sessions?

  • –Generally, the play therapist will have a selection of play materials for your child to choose from. Play Therapy enables your child to use these materials to express him or herself without having to provide verbal explanations of their feelings and experiences.
  • –Through the child’s play, the therapist gains an understanding into the child’s inner world and experiences.

How long does Play Therapy take?

  • The length of the process differs for each child; some children may respond to short-term intervention. However, other times long-term intervention may be necessary. This needs to be continuously discussed with your child’s therapist.

What can you as a parent do to help?

Be consistent and encouraging to your child about attending sessions regularly. Resist the urge to ask your child what they did, as this will put pressure on them to comment on something they may have difficulty understanding themselves. Your child does not need to be “good” during the therapy sessions. Therapy is not about being ‘good’ or ‘bad; your child must feel free to express any and all feelings (including the “bad” ones) in an uncensored way. Therapy is their time to feel free and to express themselves at their own pace.

Always openly and honestly communicate any observations or concerns you might have throughout the play therapy process.

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