Childhood can be a time of great wonder and joy. But for some, childhood is fraught with ugly family or school situations that overwhelm and depress developing psyches.
Adults who are having trouble in their lives can often get help by speaking with a trained therapist. But young children can find it difficult and even scary talking to anyone about their intense emotions and deepest fears.
This is where play therapy comes in.
What is Play Therapy?
Play therapy is a therapeutic approach that helps juveniles delve into and openly express repressed thoughts or emotions through play. These play sessions typically take place in an environment the child recognizes as safe and comfortable. There are very few rules imposed on the child during these sessions, as this encourages them to freely express themselves without the fear of repercussions.
When is Play Therapy Used?
Children that have witnessed stressful or tragic events in their lives are candidates for play therapy. These events could be something like domestic violence in the home, abuse, experiencing a sudden loss of a loved one, experiencing an illness or serious injury themselves, or any other type of family crisis.
Play therapy has also been shown to help those dealing with social problems such as anxiety or depression, as well as academic struggles such as learning disabilities or attention deficit disorder. And finally, those on the autism spectrum could also profit from play therapy.
How Does Play Therapy Work, Exactly?
A parent will first take part in an interview with the therapist, who will collect some basic info about the child. The therapist will then most likely also conduct an initial interview with the child itself. This will help the therapist assess and determine the right treatment plan moving forward.
During sessions in the playroom, the therapist will ask the child to play with specific toys that will best help him or her to express themselves. Other learning tools such as drawing, painting, music, and/or dance may also be used to facilitate positive behavioral change.
Generally speaking, play therapy sessions occur weekly for an average of 20 weeks, and each of these weekly sessions typically last 30-45 minutes.
Choosing a Play Therapist for Your Child
Look for therapists that are specially trained in early childhood development, attachment, and the use of play as a form of communication. They should also have a background in cognitive-behavioral, Adlerian, or Gestalt therapy.
In addition to looking for the right training and cognitive tools, you’ll want to find a therapist that both you and your child feel comfortable with. Take some time to get on the phone with each potential therapist and ask some questions. You may also want to meet with them in person to get a sense of their energy and personality.
If you have a child you think may benefit from play therapy and would like to explore treatment options, please get in touch with me. I’d be more than happy to discuss how I may be able to help.