How many times have you tried to talk with your child about a problem without success? Many well-intentioned parents and therapists share in a similar experience: time after time, the words just don’t seem to reach your child. Play therapy is an evidence-based treatment approach that targets the medium of communication which is developmentally appropriate for children. That medium is play.
Play has long been considered the language of children. It is the way in
which children explore their experiences, feelings, and integrate themselves with their world. Play therapy builds on the developmental task of play as the therapist supports the child in using the play to resolve problems. Engagement in play therapy allows children to experience (in the present) control and gain mastery. This feeling of control is necessary for the child’s healthy emotional development.
In his book, Play Therapy: The Art of The Relationship (2012), Garry L. Landreth lists the broad therapeutic objectives of child-centered play therapy:
- Develop a more positive self-concept.
- Assume greater self-responsibility.
- Become more self-directing.
- Become more self-accepting.
- Become more self-reliant.
- Engage in self-determined decision making.
- Experience a feeling of control.
- Become sensitive to the process of coping.
- Develop an internal source of evaluation.
- Become more trusting of oneself.
The concept of play therapy can be difficult for adults (not just parents) to believe in as it does not look like traditional talk based therapy. This can be especially frustrating for parents to understand when their young children come in with advanced vocabularies.
The first step in play therapy is developing a trusting relationship with the child. Much of the work in treatment relies on this relationship between the child and the therapist and growth often occurs within the context of the therapeutic relationship. Garry L. Landreth further identifies 8 basic learning experiences (about oneself) that facilitate change in play therapy:
- Children learn to respect themselves.
- Children learn that their feelings are acceptable.
- Children learn to express their feelings responsibly.
- Children learn to assume responsibility for themselves.
- Children learn to be creative and resourceful in confronting problems.
- Children learn self-control and self-direction.
- Children gradually learn at a feeling level to accept themselves.
- Children learn to make choices and be responsible for their choices.
Talking with your child’s therapist about your concerns and questions related to treatment is important. Your understanding and support for the treatment will positively contribute to your child’s pace and progress in achieving goals.
For more information about play therapy please see The Association For Play Therapy webpage.