What is Play Therapy?
Non-Directive Child Centered Play Therapy is a special type of child counselling just for children. Most children play naturally without prompting from adults. You may have noticed that your child ‘plays out’ their everyday experiences, such as what they did at school that day or what happened with their friends. As play is the way children naturally communicate, play therapy uses this natural ability to help children work through deeper, troubling issues. In some therapies, the therapist decides what the child needs to work on in order to resolve a certain issue. In Child Centered Play Therapy, the therapist trusts the child to lead the therapist to the exact issues they need to work on. In this way, children’s issues can be resolved at a deep level.
“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation”
In much the same way that adults may use counselling to make sense of, and resolve, their thoughts, feelings and difficulties, children can use play therapy to ‘play through’ their thoughts and feelings. Talking about thoughts and feelings can be challenging for adults, let alone children. We wish that our children could tell us in words what is happening for them inside, however most children do not begin to gain the cognitive capability to do this until their teenage years. Play therapy provides a therapeutic avenue where toys become symbols for the child’s inner world so that, when playing, children are able to tell their stories and process their feelings. In this way, children can achieve deep healing and transformation.
“Birds fly, fish swim, and children play”
Dr Garry Landreth
How Does Play Therapy Help?
Play helps children bring their problems to the surface so they can resolve conflicted feelings and play out new ways of coping. Feelings that may be too threatening to express or verbalise directly can be projected onto toys. For example, a child may bury in the sand, shoot the dragon, or yell at the doll representing the baby brother.
When children play through their thoughts and feelings they can be helped to:
- develop the ability to express their thoughts, feelings and beliefs
- learn how to express deep emotions while controlling their actions
- develop the ability to make appropriate choices and decisions
- develop self-control and self-responsibility
- change unhelpful self-talk
- choose new behaviours or ways of being
- feel in control of troubling situations
- develop coping strategies
- reduce anxieties
- become self-accepting and improve self-esteem
- increase their empathy for others
“In play therapy, toys are like the child’s words and play is the child’s language”
Dr Garry Landreth
What is the Difference Between Play Therapy and Playing with My Child at Home?
The play therapists at Play Therapy Melbourne have done intensive training and are specifically trained to use a set of skills in a consistent, predictable manner while creating an atmosphere of acceptance, empathy and understanding. These therapist skills allow children to experience safety, increase feelings of self confidence and learn to limit problem behaviour. When this therapeutic atmosphere has been created, children are able to fully explore and express their feelings, thoughts, experiences and behaviours and release the things that are holding them back from reaching their full potential. Play therapy is not the same as playing. Play therapy uses the child’s natural tendency to play out their reactions to life situations and help the child feel accepted and understood while gaining a sense of control and understanding of difficult situations.
Developmentally, it is difficult for children younger than 12 years to verbalise their feelings. So toys can act as children’s ‘words’ as they can use them to express their inner world. Play Therapy Melbourne has carefully selected toys that help children to communicate and share their world, their inner thoughts and feelings, and the meanings they make of their world.
During Play Therapy sessions children can use toys to:
- say what they cannot say
- do things they would feel uncomfortable doing
- express feelings they may be reprimanded for verbalising
- explore relationships
- make sense of experiences
- experiment with new, prosocial behaviours