“Play is the child’s symbolic language of self-expression and can reveal (a) what the child has experienced; (b) reactions to what was experienced; (c) feelings about what was experienced; (d) what the child wishes, wants, or needs; and (e) the child’s perception of self.”
While talk therapy with adults mainly focuses on verbal forms of expression, children tend to communicate much of what goes on for them in the form of play. As such, play therapy intends to use this natural capacity to allow them to express themselves in the context of a safe and caring relationship with a therapist.
Play is how children create meaning, process their experiences, and learn about themselves and their environment. Children naturally and spontaneously express themselves through play and it allows them to not be restricted to communication on a solely verbal level. As such, play therapy is intended to harness children’s innate healing capacities in the form of play so that they are able to work through conscious and unconscious struggles and develop their capacity for better problem solving.
Play therapists apply an understanding of development and attachment as well as the unique needs of the child to how they conduct therapy. They approach sessions with a warm, non-judgemental, and curious attitude that helps children feel safe to explore their feelings. Children are given access to materials such as toys, sand trays, games, and art supplies and are encouraged to express themselves however they see fit. Therapists are attuned to the messages that children communicate through their play, which may include communication of things they have been through, issues they struggle with, how they feel about themselves and how they feel towards others. Skilled play therapists pay attention to how they play, which toys they choose and themes that come out in their play that signify meaning related to the child’s inner world. Play allows children to feel in control when they may be in situations outside of therapy where they don’t feel in control. Appropriate boundaries and positive social interaction are also modelled in the relationship with the therapist.
References: Landreth, G. (2012). Play therapy: the art of the relationship [3rded.]. New York: Routledge.
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