I see it on many parents’ faces when they bring their 4-10 year old child to session and I pull out the large sand tray from under the couch.
The child is instantly thrilled. We take to the floor, dig through the sand which is a fun sensory calibration exercise. We start matching figurines to family members, placing them in a world fully designed by their child’s imagination.
You can almost see the thought progression for many parents that might go something like: My child is being removed from his classroom, being disrespectful toward me, oppositional and defiant at school, and you want him to play??! What? “I am confused! And maybe frustrated, too!”
But trust us. Play is the thing.
Play is something we tend to lose sight of as we age. But is one of the most powerful treatment modalities for our children. Next time your child vocalizes that they colored, blew bubbles, played Uno or Yeti in my Spaghetti , I encourage you to think, “good! My child and Ms. Brooke are getting somewhere!”
Play therapy is a form of psychotherapy that utilizes intentional play formats and techniquest to help children deal with emotional and mental health concerns. When play is used as the medium children are able to explore their feelings in a way that is comforting and familiar to them.
We’ve all been there: something happens and we find it difficult to talk about how we truly feel.
Children often find it more difficult to articulate their feelings than adults do.
Play is a natural way for children to explore their world and find solutions. Playing in and of itself is a cathartic experience for children.
When we allow life experiences to “play out” and explore emotions through play, children are able to create a safe distance from the issue so that they can understand and digest their own emotions, without feeling forced to change them. In play therapy the emphasis is on your child and what is best for them moment by moment.
Your therapist utilizing play therapy will allow the child to lead, giving the child autonomy to take control over their emotional state and resolve what is causing distress to them at their own pace.
Play helps the therapist understand the child’s needs through a non-directive approach. This specific therapy dynamic establishes trust between therapist and child, it provides safety to explore without fear of being “wrong.”
Your therapist’s role in conduting play therapy is to follow guidelines during the course of the therapeutic relationship. We place a large importance on acceptance of the child as they are and not to judge or over-interpret, but rather to sit with the child and reflect on the experience.
This facilitates potential to bring about change internally, exploring themes and issues that emerge.
A play therapist is trained to observe the child’s behavior during the session, explore issues, and make a diagnosis. That diagnosis helps the therapist construct specific activities that can help the child heal.
Most sessions occur between the therapist and the child. The parent may be trained to play with the child at home or given play assignments during the session. Parents may also be coached about how to interact with their child.
You might be thinking okay cool, I get it, but who is this for?
Play therapy is particularly effective for children who have:
- Experienced physical or emotional trauma
- Experienced physical, emotional or sexual abuse
- Witnessed conflict or have been bullied
- Been severely punished by teachers or authority figures
- Witnessed armed conflicts or natural calamities
- Been displaying behavior or conduct issues
- Experienced significant life changes (loss of parents, parents’ divorce or separation from family)
- Had trouble reaching developmental milestones
- Feeling anxiety or sadness
- Having trouble coping with their home or school environment
What will my child gain?
- Learn basic or advanced motor skills
- Learn decision-making and problem-solving skills
- Learn social skills
- Release excess energy
- Understand their emotions and their problems and begin to heal and find solutions
- Gain more confidence through self-expression
- Enhance their imagination and creativity
At JSA play is the thing. We love play. Your child is learning so much about themselves each session in a creative way that, to them, just feels like having fun. When kids are able to be authentically themselves, feel relaxed and secure, the therapeutic relationship thrives and that’s when real change occurs.
We can’t wait to meet you on the carpet soon!
Brooke Davis, LISW-CP
Child and Family Therapist