Play Therapy

By: Chris Hammond, M.S.

Play therapy is interactive, intentional, and inspirational play to help children overcome the challenges they face. Because play is a child’s language, play therapy motivates and encourages children of all ages to heal and learn new skills. Play therapy works with children’s natural tendencies to overcome their challenges and assist families in building stronger connections.

Play Therapy is about as much fun as it sounds and yet it is a highly effective form of therapy over traditional talk therapy for children. Children naturally enjoy play and are encouraged to engage in play as part of their normal development, so they are more comfortable in a playful environment. Playing comes naturally to a child and entering into their world of play allows the child to feel more in control of the session. Therapy for children is about discovering where they are and helping them to move forward in productive ways not destructive ways. The best environment to accomplish this is one which allows the child to feel comfortable and play therapy accomplishes this goal.

There are several types of play therapy which may be utilized depending on the needs of the child. Traditional play therapy incorporates toys such as blocks, dolls, trucks, hats, children’s books, puzzles, games, and stuffed animals into the session. Sandtray therapy uses a sandbox along with small toys which the child can use to create pictures in the sand. Art therapy uses drawings, pictures, coloring, and play dough as a means to communication.

Play therapy creates a relaxed environment in which children can act out the challenges they face in a non-threatening manner. Through the use of art, clay, music, toys, puppets, games, books, sand trays, therapeutic toys, and dramatizations, the child is better able to communicate their struggles. Play therapy is fun for the child and it works! Adolescents and families also enjoy play therapy as much as children.

Most children experience difficulties from time to time while growing up. When your child struggles for a period of time, has difficulty in school, seems different at home than at school, or acts inconsistently with their personality, play therapy can help them overcome these challenges. Some other indications that your child may benefit from play therapy include:

• change in appetite
• nervous more than usual
• difficulty concentrating
• problems at school
• aggressive or angry
• nightmares
• trouble sleeping
• mood swings
• seems depressed
• loud noises are bothersome
• regressing to younger behavior
• refusing to talk
• fears separation from parents
• change in friends
• socially withdrawn
• personality change
• problem with life transition (death in the family, divorce, move, new school)

Play therapy works with your child individually or with your whole family depending on the needs of your family. During the initial visit, your family’s needs are assessed and a personalized plan is developed to go along with your family goals. The best form of therapy to accomplish your goals is then recommended.
For individual sessions, parents participate in the initial session and sit in periodically during later sessions as needed. Individual sessions are best for children dealing with abuse, developmental issues, attention deficit disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, mood disorders, or post traumatic stress disorder. Other struggles include social pressure, divorce, depression, anger, eating disorders, addictions, self harm, and grief.
For family sessions, the entire immediate family is asked to participate. These sessions are ideal for dealing with sibling rivalry, parenting issues, family tragedies, stress management, and newly formed families.

Play therapy works because it is fun for the child and the family. For the child, it hardly seems like therapy however the lessons they learn can last a lifetime. It is never too late to begin the therapy process with your child; it is only too late if never started.

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"Reprinted with permission from the LifeWorks Group weekly eNews, (Copyright, 2004-2011), To subscribe to this valuable counseling and coaching resource visit or call 407-647-7005"

About the author- Chris Hammond is a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern at LifeWorks Group w/ over 15 years of experience as a counselor, mentor & teacher for children, teenagers & adults.

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