• Play Therapy

    “My child says they’re just playing with toys and not really talking about their feelings. Are they making any progress in therapy?”

    If your child is seeing a therapist for play therapy, it may look a little different than therapy as it is often portrayed in the media. The child is typically not sitting on the couch and expressing how they feel through talk-therapy. Children communicate more easily and more naturally through play. They are also able to problem solve when playing. So what does a play therapy session actually look like?

    Play therapy can be free play, where a child chooses activities such as board games, art, playing with toys, or music. The child chooses what part of their “inner world” they want to show to their therapist. Play therapy can also be specific activities such as drawing a representation of the child’s family, roleplaying an upcoming event that the child is anxious about, coloring where their feelings show up in their body, or learning about coping strategies.

    By allowing a child to express themselves through play, they are in control of how wide their tolerance is for feeling difficult emotions. A child can create a scenario with action figures in which they give names to the figures that are completely unrelated to anyone they know, but they may be playing out something that happened in their lives. This gives the child distance from the event, when needed. Or, the child can be fully immersed in the play and reenact something that happened to them. The child creates their “window of tolerance” to best fit what they need.

    Things to keep in mind with play therapy:

    • Through play, your child is working on building social skills in regards to relationships and attachment. 
    • Your child may be directly learning coping strategies or picking up on strategies modeled by their therapist during a session. 
    • Evidence of progress can be very slow. A child may be playing out something for weeks or months before it becomes evident what they were processing through.
    • A child does not have to only play through the difficult things in their life. Sometimes, a child needs to have fun, laugh with their therapist and have the freedom and space to be silly.

    Children naturally learn, grow, problem solve, and express themselves through play. So, integrating play into therapy for children allows them to express themselves with the “language” they already know in order to work through trauma in a way that gives them control of their therapeutic process. 

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