As Landreth had said, “Play is the child’s language…”- play therapy primarily involves healing through play, i.e. a fun activity that allows children to engage with various kinds of toys and materials. Play therapy is performed by a mental health professional, a child therapist who is usually certified in Play therapy. The therapy is generally conducted in the ‘playroom’ which is a room full of all sorts of toys, games and creative articles that can capture the child’s imagination.
What is Play Therapy?
Children often find it difficult to frame their feelings. It is not that they are inexpressive. Sometimes, a child may not even identify the source of his or her anger, grief, pain and aggression. This requires adult intervention. A play therapist not only accurately identifies the problem but also introduces innumerable ways to tackle this problem by offering multiple solutions through play, to the child. It is unbelievable to see how this technique works magically and effortlessly to bring out the child’s issues without him or her even realizing so. In the event of being able to express oneself freely, children end up highlighting their core issues through characters and dialogues. Play therapy is also sometimes used for adults.
Why Play is Included in Child Therapy?
Child therapy or any mental therapy for that matter, generally includes a patient seated before a therapist, more of in a rendezvous set up, with the patient required to be vocal about his or her problems. There are cases, where even adults find it unnerving to come off clean about their deepest vulnerabilities to a third person like a psychotherapist. Children will not only find this formal setup quite frightening but also dull. Moreover, a child who has faced domestic violence, might not even know so, but only feel the trauma and pain of it. Therefore, in the absence of understanding and developed verbal skills, the play does the job. Research has consistently revealed the positive contribution of using play in effective healing and treatment of a variety of mental disorders in children.
Benefits of Play Therapy for Children
Quoted below are few of the many benefits received by children and their families upon undergoing play therapy. There is also huge evidence for these benefits owing to multiple types of research conducted on the same.
- Play therapy teaches a child to be expressive and vocal about things that bother him or her.
- Increases self-understanding and self-actualization by successful identification of the source of pain.
- Alternate solutions offered by the therapist lead to a possibility for a way out, in the child’s mind. This brings a positive outlook.
- Play therapy causes an observable change in undesirable behavioural patterns of children.
- It impacts interpersonal skills and allows the child to develop a lot of self-confidence, self-expression, provides a positive boost to the ego.
- Play therapy greatly contributes to the development of one’s creative skills.
- Adoptive families and sometimes even regular families are found to have communication gaps. Parent and child bond can be effectively repaired and strengthened through play says a 2017 research study on filial therapy.
- Hyperactivity in children with ADHD can be largely reduced through Play therapy.
How Does The Therapy Work?
There are about 20 sessions required to perform play therapy on children with anger issues and aggression. There is also play therapy for childhood trauma such as from relocation, hospitalization, divorce, the death of a loved one and play therapy for the autistic child and play therapy for children with ADHD. Some children may recover sooner while others may need more sessions than the usual. This therapy has a highly personalized approach and uses a lot of creative tools to aid in the therapeutic process.
There are Two Major Approaches:
1. Child-Centred Play Therapy (Non-Directive Approach)
As the name suggests, this method of play therapy does not provide any direction to the child during the session. It is child-centric. Therefore, it only aims to allow the child to freely use all available equipment to play and effectively reflect his or her state of mind. This technique proves useful at the stage of identification of the cause. Since the child then capably depicts his or her issues through free-flowing self-expression. Child-centred play therapy interventions are fewer.
2. Directive Approach
In the event of a known cause or trauma, the therapist may take a directive approach which will enable the child to use only a set of recommended articles to perform a play or an act. Through this act and careful observation of the child’s body language – the therapist precisely assesses the subconscious. In a directive approach, the therapist generally intervenes the act or participates in it to offer alternate solutions to the child’s problem. The therapist may ask the child to draw, paint, colour, use puppets to play, use a dollhouse, perform an act, tell a story etc. By engaging the child in a particular activity, the therapist aims to assess the child’s mental state, as all characters of this child’s story have a direct correlation with his or her reality.
Additional Common Techniques Used in Play Therapy
There are various techniques:
1. Toy and Object Play
Uses tools like toys and articles to perform healing.
2. Storytelling and Metaphor Play
Uses stories to assess emotional content.
Playing specific activities and games to develop interpersonal skills.
4. Creative Arts Play
Uses art such as painting, music, colouring to asses emotional content.
5. Imagery and Fantasy
Use the child’s imagination to paint a picture of the state of mind.
6. Filial Therapy
Used to develop family relationships.
7. Cognitive and Behavioural Therapy
Uses alternate ways to cure.
Uses story reading to develop specific problem-solving abilities.
Some other techniques used are de-sensitization play, reenactment play, laughter play, stress-inoculation play etc.
Common Play Therapy Toys
Toys that often used in the process of play therapy are:
- Figurines of all kinds like action, animals etc.
- Dolls with dollhouse
- Specific therapeutic board games
- Toy cars
- Building blocks
- Sand tray
- Colours, crayons and art objects.
- Play handcuffs
- Musical toys
Common Issues Addressed in Play Therapy
Some of the common issues addressed in play therapy, as highlighted above are:
1. Anger and Aggression
Few children may seem very aggressive in their childhood. This anger might be due to one’s own repression of emotions. Children often exhibit anger in suffocated circumstances that they are unable to express.
2. Undesirable Behaviour
Children who act like bullies in school are often the victims of domestic violence or child abuse. They tend to take the vengeance of what was done to them, to others who seem helpless.
3. Child Trauma
The trauma of relocation, death, hospitalization or any other unfavourable circumstance may cause a child to suppress his emotions and build a chunk of grief, pain, sadness and guilt within. These go on to form the roots of major psychological disorders in adults, if not treated at a young age through child therapy.
Hyperactivity in children with ADHD is impacted.
Through play therapy ideas and activities for children, autism finds a way to freely express, feel and emote.
If you are considering play therapy for your child, then these are the aspects you must be aware of:
1. Is Family Involvement Important in Play Therapy
A child’s healthy mental development is directly correlated with the healthy environment at one’s home. Therefore, family involvement is crucial. The family might not be required to attend each session. It is highly dependent on the therapist, as to how he or she wishes to proceed. However, active engagement in understanding the child’s hindrances and troubles while being supportive enough, to help the child recover -is essential on the parent’s part.
2. What Would Be The Session Length?
On an average, each session ranges from 30-50 minutes of engagement in play. This number may vary as per the child’s requirement. This is generally conducted twice a week. It might also be as low as once in a month. Therapy is individualistic in approach, and the rules may change as per necessity. Children are often noted to show significant improvement by the 8th-10th session, in a batch of 20 sessions.
3. Where Can I Find A Play Therapist?
If you notice undesirable behavioural patterns in your child or seem to observe consistent anger, sadness or silence then it is best to consult your paediatrician. A paediatrician will be able to assess your child and accurately refer him or her to a mental health professional as per requirement. You can also find a lot of information online and can refer to the Association for child therapy in order to locate play therapists in your area and beyond. We’d suggest you be cautious and choose the best professional available who has great experience in dealing with children.