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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Yeong

What is Play Therapy?

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

And why you should choose play therapy for your child.

play therapy

Children learn about themselves and their relationships in the world around them through play (Axline, 1947). Therefore, play therapy is an evidence-based approach to therapy that builds on the normal communicative and learning processes of children, because play is the child’s language and toys are the child’s words (Landreth, 2002). For young children especially, other talk-therapies may not be appropriate as they are not yet at an age where they can express what is difficult for them in words. Even for older children, using play-based therapy approaches can foster a supportive relationship between therapist and child that allows for expression of feelings and teaching of strategies.

There are many forms of play therapy. A way in which play therapy approaches can differ on is on its directiveness. For example, a directive approach is when the therapist chooses what a child talks about or plays with, “Can you draw a picture of yourself?”. In this case, the therapist is choosing when and how something will happen, what that something is, and the focus is on meeting the therapist’s needs to fulfil therapy goals. This approach may not be as optimal and engaging for some children.

On the other hand, Child Centered Play Therapy (CCPT) is a nondirective play therapy approach, that follows the child’s lead in exploring how they perceive and experience the world by developing a relationship of safety and trust. It is through this genuine and accepting relationship between the therapist and child that the child feels safe enough to express, explore and come to a resolution of what is difficult for them or holding them back from their potential. This is a whole-child approach that promotes self-awareness, responsibility and independence as well as affirms the child’s strengths. CCPT has been shown to be effective for a wide range of social, emotional and behavioural, such as anxiety, trauma, grief and loss, and aggressive behaviour.

The play therapy approach that is best suited to a child depends on a variety of factors. For example, the age of the child and the presenting difficulty that the child has. Often times, a directive approach is more suited for older children and if they have a specific presenting problem with specific therapy goals to be met. CCPT does not require the problem to be specified and is likely to be more appropriate for children who struggle to voice their difficulties. In addition, CCPT is a child-led process, hence it requires a long-term commitment as each child differs in the length of time they may take work through their difficulties and to heal. Regardless of the approach, parents are encouraged to be involved in the process by changing how they interact with their child at home and thus, supporting their child’s growth.

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