Play therapy is an effective way to help children with problems. Play therapy works for children much the same way counseling or psychotherapy does for adults. In play therapy a relationship develops between the child and the therapist. The therapist works to enter the child’s world through play. The toys in the playroom are the child’s words and the play is the child’s language. Children use play to communicate at their own level and at their own pace, without feeling threatened or interrogated. During this process, children will act out their issues or concerns through their play. The children use role playing, sand play, art, clay, games, dollhouse play, story making, and bibliotherapy. All of these are forms of play therapy.
Throughout the play therapy process, the therapist’s role is to provide the child with emotional support as they work together to understand more about the child’s feelings and thoughts. The child may re-enact a traumatic event from his or her life, and through this learn to manage feelings.
Many years ago I saw a child for play therapy who lived with her dad after the parents divorced. Her mother had an alcohol addiction. For several weekly sessions this child played with an adult giraffe and 2 smaller giraffes in the sand tray. Several times during these sessions, she would bury the adult giraffe (whom she called the mama) and the young giraffes (representing my client and her sister) would have to work very hard to dig up the mama giraffe. It was pretty easy to see that she was re-enacting her concern for her mother and how she had taken on the responsibility of caring for her mother, rescuing her. Even though she did not have the words to tell about this, she showed me what she was feeling, and by giving her support within the symbolic story that she brought to the sessions, her worry about her mother, along with her belief that she had the responsibility to take care of her mother, decreased.
Play therapy has been used with children since 1928. It is a widely accepted and evidence-based intervention for children. Children with a variety of issues can benefit from play therapy including, but not limited to aggressive and acting out, abuse or neglect, chronic illness or injury, grief, social adjustment problems, family separation or divorce, and self-esteem issues. It is important when looking for a play therapist for your child to inquire as to the training the therapist has received specific to play therapy. Therapists doing play therapy need to be continuing their education in this area. If they are not yet registered, they should also be under supervision of a Registered Play Therapist until they are able to achieve this registration status, which requires 150 hours of play therapy training and supervision.
Play therapy has been scientifically proven to work with children. For more information on play therapy, contact Hannibal Regional Medical Group Center for Child Success at 573-629-3370.