Updated: Jan 10
What Exactly Is Play Therapy?
Play therapy was developed in the early twentieth century as a way for psychiatrists, psychotherapists, teachers, and other childcare professionals to help young children deal with various emotional and psychological challenges positively and productively. The basic premise of play therapy is to meet children where they are most comfortable: in the world of play. Hundreds of therapists have contributed to the development of play therapy over the last 60 years, but Virginia Axline and Violet Solomon Oaklander are widely regarded as their most influential innovators. The British Association of Play Therapists defined play therapy in 2008 as:
"The dynamic process [...] in which the child explores, at his or her own pace and agenda, those issues, past and present, conscious and unconscious, that are affecting the child's life in the present."
While older children, adolescents, and adults can have abstract conversations about complex issues, younger children are frequently unwilling and/or unable to do so. Play therapy creates a unique environment in which young children and a therapist, counsellor, or parent can explore a child's inner life in a safe and healthy environment.
However, therapists have recently developed a modified version of play therapy for adolescents who have experienced complex trauma. Trauma-informed play therapy is a new approach to play therapy for adolescents. Adolescents who have experienced complex trauma as children can benefit from play therapy for the same reasons that young children do: their inability to identify and discuss complex emotions makes play an ideal forum for exploring their trauma in a safe and supportive environment.
This article will cover traditional play therapy for young children and trauma-informed play therapy for adolescents.
Who Is Helped by Play Therapy?
Play therapy is typically recommended for children ages 2 to 8. Play therapy is sometimes used for children aged 9 to 12. Play therapy is a practical therapeutic approach for children who exhibit symptoms of:
Anxiety, stress, or fear
Disorders of defiance
Attention deficits, either with or without hyperactivity
Play therapy can also benefit children who:
Having difficulty making new friends
Showcase bullying behaviour
Have you lost a loved one? Have you experienced trauma? Do you have sleep problems or nightmares?
Show a dislike for playing.
Because play is universal for humans, play therapists can tailor their techniques to each child's specific needs, challenges, and the psychological, emotional, and behavioral skills they need to develop to manage their symptoms and process early trauma.
Play Therapy for Young Children
During play therapy, an adult (therapist, counselor, or parent) uses a combination of interactive play and conversation to learn about the child's life. Adults pay close attention to the mood, tone, and types of the game that a child prefers, the characters and roles a child chooses to inhabit, and the types of stories a child chooses to act out. The adult piece together the child's inner life through close observation. Play therapy is classified into three types:
Directive Play Therapy: In this type of play therapy, the therapist takes the lead and assesses the child's engagement level with the games they initiate. The therapist will then introduce games, characters, or play scenarios that the therapist believes will benefit the child.
Non-Directive Play Therapy: The child takes the lead in this play therapy. The therapist's role is to observe, keep the play grounded in reality, and create a safe, nurturing environment that encourages accessible communication and self-expression. The therapist never steers or pushes the child in any direction and always allows the child to solve problems and initiate change.
Blended Play Therapy: This combination of Directive and Non-Directive play therapy. A therapist may follow the child for some time in a combined session to learn, discover, and formulate a therapeutic approach for the child. Then, based on previous observations, they switch roles and initiate games and activities.
This blog post was written by the content team of Adicator Digital Marketing Agency.