How Does Play Therapy Work?

pic1As much as we try to understand our children, there are times when they concern and frustrate us in equal measure. We try to be good parents or teachers but, sometimes, there is obviously something wrong and all our efforts fail to address the core issue.

One of the main problems is crossing the ‘border’ between the adult and child worlds. Adults can verbally express their needs and responses whereas children do not have that ‘cognitive’ ability.

Instead, children use play as their developmentally natural media, to make sense of their world and to express their concerns, feelings and fears. Adults often see play as abstract and disconnected from reality.  Play Therapy allows children to operate without adult restrictions and expectations, and from this freedom, a child can work through, and often resolve, issues.

An adult can struggle with a life event but will often seek the advice of friends and read or talk through their problems.

Children, not having the developmental ability and experience, often interpret events in their own way, often far away from reality. A child whose parents have divorced might see some inconsequential action of theirs as wholly responsible for that divorce. For example a child witnessed his parents’ argument where his dad was complaining that he is tired of taking children to school every day. This child thinks that the reason that dad packed his bags and left the house is the fact that he was tired of taking him to school. This can seriously affect the child’s emotional stability, which in turn can lead to the child exhibiting unusual and unwanted behaviours. As adults we understand the main cause of divorce, but that does not deal with the, often complex explanation the child is struggling to understand and clarify in their own minds.

Play therapy is the best, natural and developmentally appropriate method of enabling children to express their feelings. Instead of making a child operate on adult, verbal and rational level, the therapist enters the emotional world of the child. Developmentally, children are unable to perceive and process their experiences in the way adults are. While adults are able to communicate their thoughts and feelings verbally, children use play as their method of communication. Play is a child’s language of expression.  In play therapy, the toys and art media are considered to be the child’s “words” of communication.

Through media such as:

  • Toys
  • Dramatic role play
  • Music
  • Art media such as drawing, painting etc.
  • Clay
  • Sand and water
  • Therapeutic stories
  • Puppets
  • Constructing things
  • Nature – like materials such as sea shells, twigs, stones, plants etc.

A child, in a non-directive play therapy, is given the freedom to choose what toys, art media or materials are the best for him  to meet his unique emotional needs and to express them in the most naturally and developmentally suitable way.