Child Therapy: Play Therapy

Child Therapy: Play Therapy


My children and grandchildren have taught me, and continue to teach everyday about play.  Appreciating the simple things, and all things which are fun. Its all a matter of seeing the world through their eyes. Angela Schwindt wrote “While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about. Play therapy is a unique therapy that has been around since the 1930’s, and as it name suggests it involves playing. Play therapy has evolved over the years, and been used in treatment to target a number of disorders to include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism spectrum disorder. The Association for Play Therapy (APT) has defined 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” (Association for Play Therapy).

Play therapy helps children, and adults with emotional growth, development, and social integration. A play therapist may have a broad focus in therapy, however, at the core we address issues of early child development, and attachment. Play is a natural form of communication, and expression we all use. A play therapist is trained to use play as a way to connect with children related to thoughts feelings and behavior. The sand tray is a form of therapy also known as sandplay which is often used with children, teens, adults, and sometimes groups. Sandplay is a non-verbal technique which promotes physical, emotional, and social development.

There are 5 types of play therapy therapist can work to help children with.

  1. Creative play, allowing a child to express feelings, and emotions.
  2. Development of social skills, making friends, and relating to others.
  3. Building self esteem
  4. Improving communication,
  5. and dealing with grief and loss

As a Play Therapist I am challenged with finding the balance between directed, and child centered play therapy. Non directive or child centered play therapy is a therapeutic approach which allows for the child to lead the counseling process. When children lead the way therapy is often simple, fun, and most importantly at the child own pace. As a therapist I have to remember my relationship with the child is the most important part of the equation, and not the toys, or tools. The directed approach allows for greater opportunities to model a healthy parent child relationship.

During Play Therapy, I have found it is best to foster, demonstrate, and model healthy behaviors through Play Therapy. Connecting with children in the language they speak. In the attachment-based model of clinical practice research highlights the importance of the parent-child relationship “The parent-child relationship is central to shaping personality development in the early years, …effective intervention for young children’s social-emotional difficulties should focus on this attachment-caregiving system.”(Busch & Lieberman, 2007, p.145).

I often find myself explaining to parents Play Therapy is unlike regular play. Play Therapy is different than regular play in many ways. Play Therapy helps children to work on solving problems, and working through challenges and conflicts. Play Therapy helps children learn to communicate with the people around them. An experienced therapist can work with children to express emotions and feelings. Children can work on regulating emotions, behavior, and develop problem solving skills. During Play Therapy children can work out their own thoughts and feelings in their own way. Children can re-enact or play out significant events which may have occured in their lives, to include traumatic events. This can allow a child to make sense of what they may be experiencing, and help them cope with their future.

There are many areas of focus for parents, and therapist related to play therapy.  A few of the topics and areas I enjoy exploring in therapy are: Inviting nature in your playroom, this can be as simple as bringing a small potted plant in your office. You could also have every day fruits and vegetables in small containers, and watch their growth from a seedling. Exploring your child’s imagination; allow your child to explore their world and open their imagination, and creativity. For more information on play therapy or how to become a play therapist go to

About the Author:

Duane Snape LPC
I am a Licensed Professional Counselor with over 25 years of mental health experience. Much of this experience was gained during my service in the United States Army serving veterans and their families faced with a wide variety of mental health challenges.