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What is Play Therapy?

When child psychologists and counselors need a specialized way to interact with their clients, play therapy is a very commonly favored method. Sometimes this approach truly is the only way to effectively work with the child client. So what exactly is this type of therapy?

Therapy Through Play Explained

This specific brand of therapy is a tool developed and used by the child psychology discipline. As stated by the University of North Texas Center for Play Therapy, this type of therapy is defined as “an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.” Furthermore, the center states that this therapy specifically “utilizes play, children’s natural medium of expression, to help them express their feelings more easily through toys instead of words”.

As children, we are inherently capable of and very much inclined to play for various growth reasons. Speech, the all-important ability to verbally communicate is a learned skill on the other hand, that takes time and practice to develop. Simply put, therapy that employs play gives the child a more easy and natural opportunity at expression that is often not yet available to them in the realms of speech and verbal communications.

Toys of the Trade

The therapist that “plays with” their clientele may employ a wide variety of toys and media for the occasion. Drawing is usually of great interest to children. As a result, dry-erase boards, crayons, paint, and other media can really help the child to communicate through the fun of drawing.

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Likewise, children typically enjoy role-playing with puppets and dolls. For this purpose, puppet sets are often found at the ready in child psychologist’s offices. Yet another great tool is the sandbox. With the sandbox, some action figures, and some building blocks, children are given the tools to express a multitude of emotions, desires, and thoughts. With all of these items, children are made more expressive and comfortable for the therapy process.

The Non-Directive Model

There are two models by which this type of therapy is administered to children. First, there is the non-directive model. In this model, the child is given much more freedom to play and communicate at their own speed and desire. Direction and structure are much less administered by the psychologist here. The ideology behind this model aims at providing an exceedingly comfortable forum for the child to express their problems and subsequently work through them in play. The attending psychologist is more of a friendly spectator here.

The Directive Model

The second method of therapy through play is the directive model. The thinking behind the directive method is that by giving the child more direction in play, they will be able to more effectively and quickly address their underlying issues. Rather than allowing the child to pick and choose what they would like to do, in this method, portions of time are dedicated to pre-planned activities during sessions. Using media described above, perhaps the counselor would use half of the session for puppet role-play and the other half for sandbox time. Individual goals, child maturity, counselor preference, and many other factors all dictate the choices made here by the responsible psychologist.

Therapy that uses play as a means of communication is an excellent approach in child psychology. Through such approaches, the child in need of psychological help can receive it unobstructed by matters of speech and verbal ability. This is the incredibly valuable world of play therapy.