Play Therapy

“Enter into children’s play and you will find the place where their minds, hearts, and souls meet.”

-Virginia Axline

Definition of Play Therapy

The Association of Play Therapy defines 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.”

Play Therapy Overview

Play is the primary way children learn about the world, understand how different things work, express their thoughts and feelings, develop their physical skills, develop their mental skills, and develop effective social skills and bonds. In the context of play, children practice new roles, express emotions, attempt to make sense of experiences, and deal with both reality and fantasy.  Play uncovers children’s unconscious conflicts and desires, allowing play therapy to utilize play as a tool to assist children in working through internalized difficulties. Play therapy differs from regular play in that the therapist helps children express what is troubling them when they do not have the verbal language to express their thoughts and feelings, assisting children in addressing and resolving their own problems. In play therapy, toys are like children’s words and play is a child’s language. For children, play is a serious, purposeful business through which they develop mentally, physically, and socially.  

The Association of Play Therapy endorses that play therapy helps children:

  • Become more responsible for behaviors and develop more successful strategies.
  • 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.

Play Therapy Works

According to the Association of Play Therapy, “Research suggests Play Therapy is an effective mental health approach, regardless of age, gender, or the nature of the problem, and works best when a parent, family member, or caretaker is actively involved in the treatment process.”  The research pyramid illustrates the hierarchy of evidence, providing an easy way to visualize the hierarchy of evidence gathered via various research methods. The Association of Play Therapy states, “The pyramid is widely accepted as the gold standard for evaluating best practices in mental and behavioral health. This statement provides evidence regarding the effectiveness of play therapy, evaluating the level, quality, and application of play therapy as a mental health intervention for children.”

Additional Resources

Video on Play Therapy for Children:

Introduction to Play Therapy for Children: Dee C. Ray, the distinguished teaching professor in the counseling program and director of the Center for Play Therapy at the University of North Texas created this 1.75 minute child friendly explanation of play therapy for children.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fmKxvTtSWoc&feature=youtu.be

Parent/Caregiver Videos on Play Therapy:

Andrew: The Association for Play Therapy created this 1.5-minute brief illustration of play therapy in the form of a public service announcement.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=reJpo-GaopM&feature=youtu.be

Play Therapy Works:  The Association for Play Therapy created this 7.5 minutes overview of the value of play, play therapy, and registered play therapist. 

https://www.youtube.com/embed/_4ovwAdxCs0

Introduction to Play Therapy for Parents/Caregivers: Dee C. Ray, the distinguished teaching professor in the counseling program and director of the Center for Play Therapy at the University of North Texas created this 2 minute introduction to play therapy for parents/caregivers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Onn_qF4pZ9Q