What is Play Therapy?

Play therapy is a systemic approach that aims to inspire change by speaking a child’s language–play. Therapists in Florida often use this technique with children between the ages of three and 12 who have developmental, behavioral, or emotional disorders.

People have long understood that play is important for understanding another person. Even Plato said that an hour of play can teach you more about a person than a year of talking to the person ever could. Mental health researchers and practitioners have recognized the role of play in treating children since the early 1900s.

In today’s play therapy, clinicians and/or parents engage in fun activities with children. Sometimes, therapists ask children to play in specific ways. For example, the counselor may ask the child to use puppets or drawings to demonstrate an event. In other sessions, the child can explore the room freely and engage with whatever toys stand out.

It’s important for families to choose clinicians who specialize in treating children with similar problems. Parents may not want their children to see the same therapists as they do because adults and children communicate very differently. Furthermore, a practitioner who helps children with developmental delays uses a different type of therapy than one who helps children who experience trauma. LifeStance Health can connect families with qualified, compassionate professionals who use play therapy.

Conditions That Benefit from Play Therapy

Children can struggle with many of the same disorders as adults. However, the treatments that adults use don’t work for kids. Play therapy can help fill many of these gaps. Clinicians use play therapy to treat:

Children do not need to live with specific diagnoses to benefit from play therapy. Some children live through impactful, traumatic, or terrifying events without getting diagnosed with disorders. These children may have several symptoms. Kids may benefit from play therapy if:

  • They enter the foster care system
  • The parents get sick, divorce, or die
  • They are victims of sexual, emotional, or physical abuse
  • The family moves or experiences other sudden changes
  • They witness traumatic events

Sometimes, children display troublesome behaviors without a known cause. For example, a child can suddenly start acting out in anger. Play therapy can help in these cases as well. Often, play therapy gives kids the tools they need to communicate about their feelings.

Therapists may discover that the child has been a victim of trauma or abuse. For example, a child may reveal during play therapy that he gets bullied frequently at school. However, he may never have known how to tell his parents or even that he should tell them. Instead, the frustration built up and caused him to act out. In cases like this, play therapy gives the parents the information they need to help as well.

Types of Play Therapy

Because play therapy can treat so many different types of children, researchers have developed several specific types of play therapy. While each kind of play therapy uses different structures and has different goals, they all use the same foundation. In all play therapy, clinicians engage in fun activities with children and try to learn more about the child’s experiences and emotions.

The types of play therapy include:

  • Creative Play: Therapists give children art supplies, such as crayons, paint, or markers. They then ask children to draw about their feelings, specific situations, or whatever they want to create.
  • Grief and Anger: Therapists give children tools that help them process intense emotions when they do not have the communication skills to do so themselves. Children may rip up paper, draw, or punch molding clay.
  • Role play or imaginary play: Children dress up or use toys to tell a story about what happened. This allows patients to remove their own emotions from the situation and communicate effectively.
  • Non-directive play: Practitioners set up a room full of development-appropriate toys and allow the child to explore. They then use whatever play the child chooses to encourage communication.
  • Bibliotherapy: Fun, age-appropriate books that teach important lessons.

The types of play therapy are as diverse and wide-ranging as the types of play that children enjoy. Specialized pediatric therapists at LifeStance Health design play therapy sessions around each family’s needs. If your child could benefit from play therapy, call a LifeStance Health play therapy clinic near you today.