It goes without saying that children are very different creatures than adults. While adults were the first patients in psychoanalysis, the need to develop specific therapy models appropriate to children eventually became obvious.
Play therapy came into therapeutic practice almost a century ago in the United States. Its use and understanding have grown and expanded in the time since then.
At Sunshine Counseling, we draw upon several types of play therapy. They include Adlerian, Cognitive Behavioral, Child-Centered, Sand Tray, and Child-Parent Relationship Play Therapy approaches.
Within these specific approaches exists another concept: non-directive versus directive play therapy.
Non-Directive Play Therapy
In non-directive play therapy, the therapist allows the child to take the lead. The therapist is flexible and is willing to go where the child’s play takes them. By doing this, the therapist makes room for the child to reveal what is troubling them in a natural manner.
The therapist doesn’t set the parameters for the session. They don’t purposefully try to guide the child into a pre-planned conversation. Rather, as the child acts out scenarios or makes up stories during play, the therapist is given a natural “in” to track and follow their play themes. In non-directive or child centered therapy the therapist does not interject with therapeutic interventions.
Directive Play Therapy
In directive play therapy, the therapist sets out with specific interventions and goals in mind. During the play sessions, the therapist knows where they want to take the discussion.
Often toys and activities are chosen ahead of time, by the therapist. And they will initiate play situations that purposefully attempt to lead the child to discuss the problems at hand.
Importantly, non-directive and directive play therapy can both be used for the same variety of childhood concerns and conditions: anxiety, ADHD, depression, divorce, bullying, and learning issues.
Indeed, no matter which approach is used, a deep understanding of the healing power of play is still at the heart of the sessions.
In both types of therapy, there are many different play options. In fact, a play therapist’s office may often resemble a toy store given the many choices on their shelves. However, these toys are carefully selected by the therapist to give the child a wide range of choices to workout issues they bring to the session. Toys can include dolls and dollhouses, miniatures, art and craft supplies, and dress-up clothes, sand tray(s), blocks/Legos, books, puppets, and games are often also available.
Establishing a Relationship
Of course, establishing a comfortable, trusting relationship with the child is paramount to both types of play therapy. Whether directive or non-directive, a therapist will often take the first few sessions to let the child become comfortable and familiar with the setting. This foundation of trust and comfort is vital for the effectiveness of future therapy sessions together.
The Power of Play
Researchers have long noted the incredible power of play, in humans and animals alike. It facilitates skill mastery, creativity, and sharing. Indeed, play is the way children learn. They are designed to learn and grow through fun. In fact, they learn best when they don’t realize they’re learning—and play is how this is done. This isn’t just true for the classroom, but also the therapist’s office.
Adults, too, can benefit greatly from play. Taking the time to really play and have fun with your kids on their level is a transformative experience for both generations. This is true whether your child is in therapy or not.
Our office specializes in working with children and their parents. If your child has been displaying behaviors or emotions that are new or concerning, please know that we are here to help you. We’ve seen countless children and families grow stronger, healthier relationships and behaviors. We’d be honored to facilitate the same for you.