People often ask me, "What does play therapy mean?"
"Do you play with my child to get them to talk?" or "How does play become therapy?"
Traditional talk therapy can feel daunting to children. In order for a healing and recovery process to occur, a child must feel safe and comfortable in the counseling session. They also need to have the freedom to access the world and their experiences in a way that feels safe and natural to them - this is why children play.
Play is the natural language of children. Through play, a child can explore, learn, and master elements of their world. Children typically do not possess the cognitive or verbal skills to adequately express challenging emotions and experiences through words. Parents and counselors desire for children to learn new skills, overcome problem behaviors, or process painful events in therapy. In order for therapy to be beneficial to the child, the therapist must be able to interact with the child in a way that best suits the child's needs. What better way to do that than in the way that the child is most developmentally wired for -- their play.
In play therapy, the play allows for children to express themselves freely in the language they understand. It can look like art, drama, games, or imaginative play. Through playing children make sense of their world. Their experiences, relationships, and traumas become less overwhelming as the child controls them in the safe world of their play. As the child plays, they can safely master tasks and emotions that are otherwise overwhelming to them.
As a therapist who works with children, I am committed to building a healing relationship based on the child's comfort and strengths. If this means painting, playing, and getting messy in order to help the child grow -- then I sit on the floor covered in paint with them. It is in these moments when a child is fully accepted as who they are that they heal and grow.
Imagine being fully accepted while talking in the language you understand best- that's always my vision for successful play therapy.