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Play Therapy – More Than Just Fun and Games

four children playing with bubbles learning that play therapy is more than just fun and games

Play therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses playtime to assess, prevent, or treat psychosocial challenges, mostly in children. Though this kind of therapy may seem like it is simply about having fun, the hands-on nature of play can help children act out stressful life events, create characters who reflect their emotions, or resolve specific problems.

Play therapy may involve a variety of activities, games, or toys, such as:

  • Dolls, action figures, or puppets
  • Board games
  • Creative arts and crafts
  • Drawing
  • Imaginative play
  • Music
  • Sandplay
  • Storytelling

The therapist will often join in on the play in order to facilitate communication and provide guidance. The goal is to help the child understand and express their feelings, work through any traumas, build self-esteem, and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

Play therapy is an evidence-based practice that effectively treats a wide range of issues, including anxiety, depression, trauma, and behavioral problems. It can be used alone or in combination with other therapies. If you think your child might benefit from play therapy, don’t hesitate to contact Connections Wellness Group at 940.360.4245.

The Goals of Play Therapy for Children

The goals of play therapy depend on the child’s individual needs but may include:

  • Addressing behavioral issues
  • Improving communication skills
  • Resolving conflict
  • Reducing stress
  • Building self-esteem
  • Gaining a sense of control
  • Learning to express emotions

Play therapy is usually conducted in a therapist’s office but can also take place in schools, daycare centers, or hospitals. Play therapy is a valuable tool for helping children overcome challenges and build essential skills. If you think your child could benefit from play therapy, talk to your pediatrician or contact a local mental health professional.

It may sound somewhat ridiculous that playing with toys can provide much emotional healing; however, there are countless ways that play therapy enriches the lives of children.

How Can It Help?

As Maria Montessori said, “play is the work of childhood”; thus, playing is an essential means by which children learn. Some ways that this therapy can help a child grow include:

  • Developing confidence in their abilities
  • Learning and improving social skills
  • Cultivating empathy and respect toward others
  • How to identify and express their emotions in a healthy way
  • Practicing problem-solving skills
  • Learning responsibility for their behavior

Who Does It Benefit?

Play therapy can be used to treat many mental illnesses or behavioral challenges that children have. These can include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Autism spectrum
  • Life event trauma or crisis
  • Social issues
  • Aggressive behavior and anger management
  • School-related issues
  • Coping with grief or loss
  • Behavioral problems
  • Depression
  • ADHD
  • Improve Parent-Child Relationship

Types of Play Therapy

There are two approaches to how a therapist conducts a play therapy session.

  1. The Non-Directive approach is child-centered, meaning children are given the freedom to choose what creative tools or toys they wish to play with and how to spend their time during the session. The therapist does not offer any direction on what the child should do but may observe the child quietly or comment on what they are doing. The principle behind this approach is that children will find answers to their own problems when allowed to do so.
  2. The Directive approach is when the therapist utilizes guidance in order to work towards a specific goal during each session. For example, the therapist may choose a specific game to play or may hand them a doll and conduct role-play.

In addition to these two approaches to therapy, many different types of play therapy focus on different modes of play. Some of the most common include:

  • Filial Play (Child-Parent Relationship): The relationship between children and parents is emphasized and seen as a means to help alleviate and prevent problems. The primary goal is to bridge the communication gap between the child and the parent.
  • Sand Tray Therapy: The child uses a sandbox filled with miniature toys and figures to create scenes. These scenes are interpreted as reflections of the child’s life and allow opportunities for resolution and self-acceptance.
  • Bibliotherapy: The therapist and child read a book to explore and teach skills or concepts.
  • Imaginary Play: Toys are given to the child to spark their imagination, including puppets, dolls, action figures, clothes, LEGOS, word blocks, etc.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapy: The therapist uses play to better understand how a child thinks and behaves. Then the therapist can help the child learn to think and act differently. For instance, the therapist could ask a child to give advice to a stuffed animal or doll on how to handle a stressful situation,
  • Floortime Play Therapy: Floortime therapy’s goal is to help children on the spectrum build and enhance their emotional connections and communication skills while also building a stronger parent-child bond.

Reach Out to Connections Wellness Group Today

Many parents ask, “what is play therapy?” Our team at Connections Wellness Group can answer that question and provide further information. We will be there to help you in any way during your time of need. Please contact us at 940.360.4245 today to get started.