The Association for Play Therapy is sponsoring National Play Therapy Week. (In all transparency, I am on its Board of Directors.) I will be doing my part to spread the news of the benefits of play and play therapy by having special blogposts throughout the week.
Why Play Therapy?
Why play therapy or why play in therapy? The short answer. It works and it is developmentally appropriate.
Young children do not have the language or cognitive ability to communicate verbally as adults do. Their first language or way of communicating is nonverbal (think of infants crying to let adults know they are hungry). Play is a form of nonverbal communication that comes naturally to children. In fact, children in all cultures engage in play. Children communicate their thoughts, feelings, wishes, desires, fantasies, needs, and fears through their play. The times you may not see them play is when they are tired, hungry, or sick. They must also feel safe in order to play. A trained play therapist knows how to make children feel safe and what toys are most appropriate to invoke children's self-expression.
Children will also "play out" their problems. That is, they engage in play that helps them make sense out of and have control over situations that often don't make sense children or they don't have control over. As they do so, they can experience catharsis (release of pent-up emotion) and tap into their own internal resources to solve their problems.
Sometimes what children experience in their world leads to feelings and thoughts that are too threatening to be shared verbally (if they actually could do so). The toys and materials in a play therapy room, then, become symbols to share their experience or deal with their feelings and thoughts. What children, and all human beings, want is to be seen and to be heard. A trained play therapist knows how to "see and hear" children and even more importantly, make them feel seen and heard. Therefore, a play therapist is doing so much more than "just playing with a child."
Children aren't just the only ones have can have difficulty expressing themselves. The same can be true of adolescents and adults. All age groups can use play, including the expressive arts, to share what is hard to put into words. Play can also allow all of us to gain more control over what seems to be out of control experiences in our lives.
For more information about play therapy visit the Association for Play Therapy website.