Integrated Family Community Services 3370 South Irving Street, Englewood, CO 80110-1816 Ph: 303-789-0501

What is Play Therapy and Does it Work?

Play should be at the center of every child’s life. It is the way we learn best and the way we learn to express ourselves, rehearse social behaviors, and strengthen our imaginations. It is at the center of well-being and happiness for both adults and children. Play is fundamental to the communicative and learning development of children. Play therapy builds on this natural language of childhood to:

  • learn social skills when there is an emotional or social skills deficit
  • help children communicate when they do not have the requisite language to express themselves
  • provide insights into difficult situations
  • teach adaptive behaviors.

How Does It Help?

Children have a limited number of problem-solving skills. When confronted with challenging situations they can quickly exhaust all of the healthy problem-solving and coping skills available to them. This often leads to acting out at home, school, or with friends and family. Play therapy is a way to help children confront these challenges in a safe and therapeutic environment using the language they understand best; play.

Through play therapy, children begin to change the way they think about, react to, and ultimately resolve their concerns. It helps them discover a language to describe the challenges they face. In much the same way that play is used in a classroom setting to aid in learning, play can also be used in a therapeutic environment to aid in healing and skill-building.

Who is It For?

It’s important to note here that while play therapy is primarily geared towards children between the ages of three and thirteen, it can also be useful when treating almost any age group. Teenagers often benefit from play techniques and games designed specifically to help them process difficult emotions. It can also be used for adults and is increasingly popular with those who are dealing with mental health issues in a healthcare setting.

What Do You Need?

The tools for play differ according to the needs of the one playing. Some children benefit from abstract, free-form play with things like colorful blocks, sand tray therapy kits, or light boards. Others benefit from costumes and pre-fabbed kits. There is no direct correlation between which toys are best and the types of challenges the children are facing. Therapists take their cues from the child and decipher the child’s responses through play. Many child therapists have their own kits available for children to use during sessions, but you can also consult with them on how to continue the therapy at home.

The average child needs 20 play therapy sessions to resolve the source of their conflict, but there is no fixed number either. What is important is that the whole family participates in the healing process. That is the only way that play therapy can heal the child and the family as a whole.

Tim Esterdahl

Tim Esterdahl is the editor of IFCS blog. He is a married father of three and enjoys golf in his spare time.
Tim Esterdahl

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