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What is Play Therapy?

“Play therapy is to children what counseling is to adults. Play therapy utilizes play, children’s natural medium of expression, to help them express their feelings more easily through toys instead of words.” (University of North Texas, Center for Play Therapy)

Play is the language of children. Just as we may sit down with one another and share our deepest worries, fears, excitements and joys, children do the same through play. It is a medium in which children can express their inner thoughts and feelings in a way that makes sense for them. Play gives their brains a method to organize confusing thoughts or experiences into something more concrete and easier to understand. And it’s not just children who benefit from play. Older teens and even adults can express and process difficult thoughts and feelings through play. In fact, current research indicates that play is a biological need for the brain which helps us make sense of the outside world. In play, either individually or with others, children can master social skills, and expand emotional tolerance and cognitive learning. Most importantly, play opens the space for vulnerability and connection, both qualities that every person needs when faced with difficulties and hardships.

Through play, the child is able to focus on their anxiety, depression, and even trauma without needing to use words. In my time working with children and teens, I have found the best moments of healing are not when words are used. Rather, it is when the person allows themselves to be open to what they are experiencing in the expression of play and art. Sometimes big thoughts and feelings are expressed through art, playing a game with the therapist, or creating a world in the sand tray. Play opens the space for connections to be made that weren’t previously there and for clients to master and understand emotions or thoughts that didn’t make sense previously.

What does Play Therapy look like?

Play in therapy takes several different forms. Sometimes the child leads the play and the therapist joins at the child’s comfort level. Other times, the therapist guides the play so the child can practice certain coping skills. Parents can even join in play therapy sessions to encourage connection to children’s processes and experiences. Play can also create opportunities for growth and learning. What might be a simple game of Uno, can easily become a lesson about turn-taking and creative problem solving. Or, a make-believe game becomes an opportunity to encourage self-esteem and emotional regulation.

How can Play Therapy be helpful?

Play Therapy can be used to treat a wide range of issues; including, anxiety, depression, trauma, ADHD, and grief. It is typically used for clients who are 5-12 years old, but research also shows play to be beneficial for teenagers and adults. Play therapy is used by a trained therapist who is knowledgeable about the use and benefits of play. If this practice seems like something you might be interested in for your family, reach out to our counseling center at Brentwood Counseling Associates to match you with the right therapist.


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