Have you heard of play therapy? Do you wonder what it is and why it works?
Play therapy is a marvelous approach to doing therapy with children, typically from ages three through twelve. Kids, after all, are in many ways very different than adults. Their brains, social skills, and understanding of the world around them is still growing and developing.
Play, in fact, is the way that children learn and express themselves. It’s even been called the language of childhood. Playing helps them communicate no matter what their level of verbal development is.
Over the years, researchers have identified reasons for the effectiveness of play therapy.
Why Is Play Itself Important?
To understand the effectiveness of play therapy, it’s helpful to first understand the importance of play itself. When you look at the young of almost any mammal species, you’ll notice how much play is going on.
For example, puppies and kittens tussle and pounce like they’re hunting each other—but it’s just play. It’s how they learn the skills they will need to survive when they’re fully grown. It helps them practice and try on adult roles in a way they can understand.
Humans—children and adults alike—have a similar need for play. Children learn to interpret and process their world through play. Think of how often kids imitate what their parents are doing: taking care of dolls, play kitchens, or toy tool benches. Kids enjoy role play, pretending to play house, doctor, or veterinarian.
Even if they don’t realize it, kids are learning a great deal and furthering their development when they play. They are made to play.
And adults also still need the joy, laughter, and silliness that comes from play. It helps everyone burn off stress, take a break from worries, and process things on their minds.
Play Therapy Lets the Child Be Who They Are
In the therapeutic setting, play allows the child to interact naturally with their therapist. While a therapist may provide some guidance and structure during play therapy, they take an approach that will work for the child.
It can be hard for adults to answer and process questions about their feelings and emotions during traditional therapy sessions. Think of how much more this is true of kids! In play therapy, they don’t have to sit and think about how to answer questions. They can just be who they are and express their world through what comes naturally to them.
Play Therapy Provides a Non-Threatening, Adaptable Approach
Many children will go through trauma and emotional difficulties in early life. From divorce, abuse, a parent’s addiction, bullying, and more, lots of things can bring children to a therapist’s office.
Kids in these situations are already struggling. They often don’t understand what they feel or what has happened to them. And so, they express this in the way in which they behave.
Play therapy takes the pressure off of children. It can be easily adapted to help kids address any number of difficulties, as mentioned above. If children aren’t comfortable talking about something or don’t even have any words for what they’ve been through, they can still process it through play. They can communicate to their therapists and parents what is going on in their world.
Likewise, the adults can respond through play in a way the child will understand. Such an approach creates a natural path for healing.