The Association for Play Therapy (APT) defines Play Therapy as “the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process where trained Play Therapists help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.” Play Therapy provides therapist and parents an opportunity to further explore and understand a child’s world directly from the hands and perspective of a child.
There is often a misconception with Play Therapy, which perceives that children are engaging in an activity such as recess time. At first glance, this perception may seem true. However, upon deeper examination and assessment, an individual or parent will discover that a child’s play in Play Therapy is, in fact, meaningful play.
Our patients here at PediaPlex see so much progress with the help of Play Therapy. Many of our patients see our Play Therapist in addition to seeing one of our therapists. The collaboration between our Speech, Occupational, ABA, and Play Therapists really helps to make a difference in patients’ treatment. They are all able to come together and share their plans to ensure that each child is getting the best, fully-rounded plan of care.
According to Albert Einstein “Play is the highest form of research.” Play is a significant part of development for all children. Research has reported that play has been proven to influence healthy relationships and enhance an individual’s emotional well-being and sense of self. A child is able to communicate and process feelings, personal experiences, and psychological/emotional stressors through his or her own natural “language”, otherwise known as play.
Adults or young adolescents may attend mental health counseling or what is commonly referred to as “Talk Therapy” in order to better cope with psychosocial stressors. During this therapeutic process, an adult or teenager is provided a safe and supportive atmosphere to problem solve solutions and express feelings and thoughts with a mental health therapist. Now imagine a 2-year old or 8-year old seeking this same type of mental health therapy. Picture a child sitting on a couch, while a therapist encourages him to express his emotional concerns or discuss his feelings related to his life experiences. For many children (and some young adolescents), this type of approach to therapy would be developmentally difficult and non-effective. Play Therapy provides a unique child-centered approach to therapy, where children can experience the similar benefits of traditional Talk Therapy.
The nature of play and the experiential learning process that comes with playing is beneficial for children. Most, if not all, children can benefit from Play Therapy in some type of manner. However, research has suggested that Play Therapy can be especially effective or helpful for specific childhood concerns.
Play Therapy has shown to be effective for behavioral/emotional concerns and mental health disorders, which includes anxiety, impulsivity, attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), Autism, conduct disorders, depression, obsessions and compulsions, developmental issues, and etc. Furthermore, Play Therapy may also be implemented as an approach to address and or assist in the coping of posttraumatic stress, significant life experiences (crisis and trauma), grief and loss, or parental separation/divorce.
A major goal of Play Therapy is to help decrease emotional and behavioral difficulties, which significantly impact and interfere with a child’s ability to function emotionally, socially, and academically. Play Therapy also works to increase and optimize the understanding and communication between a child and his or her parents, caregivers, and family. One of the fundamental beliefs in Play Therapy is the belief that children are resilient and have the natural ability to problem solve. Play Therapy works to further develop this resiliency; while providing a supportive environment that encourages and fosters self-control and self-direction in children. In Play Therapy, a child learns to express his feelings responsibly and to be responsible for his own choices. When engaging in Play Therapy, a child is empowered to resolve problems and express their self, which influences a healthy social and emotional development.