Play Therapy...
Play is the child's language and in recent years a growing number of noted mental
health professionals have observed that play is as important to human happiness
and well being as love and work (Schaefer, 1993). Some of the greatest thinkers
of all time, including Aristotle and Plato, have reflected on why play is so
fundamental in our lives. The following are some of the
Play is a fun, enjoyable activity that elevates our spirits and brightens our outlook
on life. It expands self-expression, self-knowledge, self-actualization and self-
efficacy. Play relieves feelings of stress and boredom, connects us to people in a
positive way, stimulates creative thinking and exploration, regulates our
emotions, and boosts our ego (Landreth, 2002). In addition, play allows us to
practice skills and roles needed for survival. Learning and development are best
fostered through play (Russ, 2004).

Why Play in Therapy?
Play therapy is a structured, theoretically based approach to therapy that builds
on the normal communicative and learning processes of children (Carmichael,
2006; Landreth, 2002; O'Connor & Schaefer, 1983). The curative powers inherent
in play are used in many ways. Therapists strategically utilize play therapy to help
children express what is troubling them when they do not have the verbal
language to express their thoughts and feelings (Gil, 1991). In play therapy, toys
are like the child's words and play is the child's language (Landreth, 2002).

Through play, therapists may help children learn more adaptive behaviors when
there are emotional or social skills deficits (Pedro-Carroll & Reddy, 2005). The
positive relationship that develops between therapist and child during play
therapy sessions provides a corrective emotional experience necessary for healing
(Moustakas, 1997). Play therapy may also be used to promote cognitive
development and provide insight about and resolution of inner conflicts or
dysfunctional thinking in the child (O'Connor & Schaefer, 1983; Reddy, Files-Hall &
Schaefer, 2005).

What Is Play Therapy?
Initially developed in the turn of the 20th century, today play therapy refers to a
large number of treatment methods, all applying the therapeutic benefits of play.
Play therapy differs from regular play in that the therapist helps children to
address and resolve their own problems. Play therapy builds on the natural way
that children learn about themselves and their relationships in the world around
them (Axline, 1947; Carmichael, 2006; Landreth, 2002). Through play therapy,
children learn to communicate with others, express feelings, modify behavior,
develop problem-solving skills, and learn a variety of ways of relating to others.
Play provides a safe psychological distance from their problems and allows
expression of thoughts and feelings appropriate to their development.

APT defines play therapy as "the systematic use of a theoretical model to
establish an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists use the
therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial
difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development."

How Does Play Therapy Work?
Children are referred for play therapy to resolve their problems (Carmichael;
2006; Schaefer, 1993). Often, children have used up their own problem solving
tools, and they misbehave, may act out at home, with friends, and at school
(Landreth, 2002). Play therapy allows trained mental health practitioners who
specialize in play therapy, to assess and understand children's play. Further, play
therapy is utilized to help children cope with difficult emotions and find solutions to
problems (Moustakas, 1997; Reddy, Files-Hall & Schaefer, 2005). By confronting
problems in the clinical Play Therapy setting, children find healthier solutions. Play
therapy allows children to change the way they think about, feel toward, and
resolve their concerns (Kaugars & Russ, 2001). Even the most troubling problems
can be confronted in play therapy and lasting resolutions can be discovered,
rehearsed, mastered and adapted into lifelong strategies (Russ, 2004).

Who Benefits from Play Therapy?
Although everyone benefits, play therapy is especially appropriate for children
ages 3 through 12 years old (Carmichael, 2006; Gil, 1991; Landreth; 2002;
Schaefer, 1993). Teenagers and adults have also benefited from play techniques
and recreational processes. To that end, use of play therapy with adults within
mental health, agency, and other healthcare contexts is increasing (Pedro-Carroll
& Reddy, 2005; Schaefer, 2003). In recent years, play therapy interventions have
also been applied to infants and toddlers.

How Will Play Therapy Benefit A Child?
Play therapy is implemented as a treatment of choice in mental health, school,
agency, developmental, hospital, residential, and recreational settings, with
clients of all ages (Carmichael, 2006; Reddy, Files-Hall & Schaefer, 2005).

Play therapy treatment plans have been utilized as the primary intervention or as
an adjunctive therapy for multiple mental health conditions and concerns (Gil &
Drewes, 2004; Landreth, Sweeney, Ray, Homeyer & Glover, 2005), e.g. anger
management, grief and loss, divorce and family dissolution, and crisis and trauma,
and for modification of behavioral disorders (Landreth, 2002), e.g. anxiety,
depression, attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), autism or pervasive
developmental, academic and social developmental, physical and learning
disabilities, and conduct disorders (Bratton, Ray & Rhine, 2005).

Research supports the effectiveness of play therapy with children experiencing a
wide variety of social, emotional, behavioral, and learning problems, including:
children whose problems are related to life stressors, such as divorce, death,
relocation, hospitalization, chronic illness, assimilate stressful experiences,
physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, and natural disasters (Reddy, Files-
Hall & Schaefer, 2005). Play therapy helps children:

Become more responsible for behaviors and develop more
successful strategies.
  • Develop new and creative solutions to problems.
  • Develop respect and acceptance of self and others.
  • Learn to experience and express emotion.
  • Cultivate empathy and respect for thoughts and feelings of others.
  • Learn new social skills and relational skills with family.
  • Develop self-efficacy and thus a better assuredness about their abilities.

How Long Does Play Therapy Take?
Each play therapy session varies in length but usually last about 30 to 50
minutes. Sessions are usually held weekly. Research suggests that it takes an
average of 20 play therapy sessions to resolve the problems of the typical child
referred for treatment. Of course, some children may improve much faster while
more serious or ongoing problems may take longer to resolve (Landreth, 2002;
Carmichael, 2006).

How May My Family Be Involved in Play Therapy?
Families play an important role in children's healing processes. The interaction
between children's problems and their families is always complex. Sometimes
children develop problems as a way of signaling that there is something wrong in
the family. Other times the entire family becomes distressed because the child's
problems are so disruptive. In all cases, children and families heal faster when
they work together.

The play therapist will make some decisions about how and when to involve some
or all members of the family in the play therapy. At a minimum, the therapist will
want to communicate regularly with the child's caretakers to develop a plan for
resolving problems as they are identified and to monitor the progress of the
treatment. Other options might include involving a) the parents or caretakers
directly in the treatment in what is called filial play therapy and b) the whole family
in family play therapy (Guerney, 2000). Whatever the level the family members
choose to be involved, they are an essential part of the child's healing (Carey &
Schaefer, 1994; Gil & Drewes, 2004).

Who Practices Play Therapy?
The practice of play therapy requires extensive specialized education, training,
and experience. A play therapist is a licensed (or certified) mental health
professional who has earned a Master's or Doctorate degree in a mental health
field with considerable general clinical experience and supervision.

With advanced, specialized training, experience, and supervision, mental health
professionals may also earn the Registered Play Therapist (RPT) or Registered
Play Therapist-Supervisor (RPT-S) credentials¹ conferred by the Association for
Play Therapy (APT).
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