"Play is the language, and the toys are the words."
- Dr. Garry Landreth, The Art of the Relationship
Play is a child's natural language. Play Therapy is for kids what talk therapy is for adults. Because children's brains are still developing, they are not able to verbally process or understand their emotions in the same way that adults can. Instead, children express their problems through their play.
The job of the play therapist is to use the play to help a child to gain an understanding of their experiences that is appropriate to their developmental level through play. They also assist the child to increase resilience, develop coping strategies, and decrease problematic behaviors. The therapist will work closely with the child’s parents/guardians throughout the course of therapy.
Play therapy was developed for children ages 3-12. However, play therapy can be used with adolescents and even adults, when modified for developmental and cognitive needs. The therapist uses more child-led techniques with younger children. With older children, the play can include more targeted, directive play techniques.
To learn more about how play therapy can make a difference, please click here.
Parent involvement is key to successful therapy for children. This may look different based on individual circumstances. Parents may be asked to join sessions, have parent-only sessions, and/or be given recommendations to follow at home to support the therapeutic process.
To learn more about how parents can support their children through the process, please click the link here.
"For children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood."
- Fred Rogers
Play is nature's way of allowing children to "rehearse" for their daily life in developmentally appropriate ways. Play helps children develop and strengthen new neural connections in their brains, and develop new cognitive, emotional and social connections.
Through Play Therapy, children are able to:
Become more responsible for their behaviors.
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.
In essence, a child's play serves as a metaphor for their day to day life. "Playing through" issues allows the safety of distance and the child's sense of control over the process. By working with the child through the metaphor of their play, the child will learn and practice new ways of being, relating, and doing in their world. What a child learns through their play can then be generalized to their daily life.
Child-Centered Play Therapy is an evidence-based practice recognized by SAMSHA.
Sand Tray Therapy for Children and Adults
"Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain."
- Carl Jung
Sand tray therapy is a technique which can be used to facilitate healing in all age groups. It allows people to express their thoughts and feelings when words are inadequate or not enough. In addition to its therapeutic use, sand tray can be a tool for personal growth and the development of creativity. The miniatures represent all of the elements of life and emotion. The therapist provides an accepting environment in which the client is invited to create a world in the tray using the sand and miniatures.
Children are naturally drawn to sand. The medium of sand is non-threatening, and allows children to easily express themselves in a playful way. Many times children will utilize the play in the sand to begin to explore behavior changes without cues from the therapist. The relaxed and interactive setting of sand tray, as well as the non-judgmental presence of the therapist,
provides them the safe space they need to create change and healing.
Although sand tray therapy may look like "just play" by the casual observer, it is actually a powerful form of therapy. Adults who engage in sand tray therapy are able to access deeper levels of emotion in a non-threatening manner. With the therapist's presence as an observer, a person may use the miniatures to access emotions, life narratives, and experiences outside of normal conscious awareness. By beginning to facilitate change on the metaphor-level in the miniature world contained in the tray, a person can gain insight, understanding, a sense of clarification, and the ability to recognize that these same changes can be made in his or her own life.
For more information about Play Therapy,
please visit www.a4pt.org.