Scientists and mental health professionals have been using and studying play therapy since the 1920s to assist in treating patients of all ages, although it is most commonly associated with treating children. One effective activity used in play therapy is sand tray therapy, which is designed to give the child a creative way to express themselves in a safe, loving environment.
Until about 16 years old, children's brains are not fully developed enough to link emotions consistently and effectively with words. According to developmental psychologist Jean Piaget, playing gives the child a language that is indispensable to the expression of their feelings.
Common Types Of Play Therapy Tasks
Toy Telephone Play
Toy telephone play is a popular technique used in child play therapy. It involves the child using a toy telephone to role-play different scenarios, such as talking to a parent, friend, or teacher. This technique allows the child to express their thoughts and feelings in a safe and non-threatening way.
Family Puppet Interview
The family puppet interview is a family relations technique used to help children express their feelings about family relationships. The therapist uses puppets to represent family members, and the child is asked to interact with the puppets as if they were real people. This technique helps the child identify and express their feelings about their family members.
Playing the role of someone else and acting out everyday scenarios is a real-world play therapy technique that may help children express their feelings and emotions. Role play is also a great way for children to learn social skills and explore mental and emotional difficulties in a safe space.
Symbolic play involves the use of objects or toys to represent real-life situations. The therapist works with the child to help them explore and understand their emotions and experiences through symbolic play.
The three wishes technique involves asking the child to make three wishes. This technique can be used to help the child identify and express their desires and aspirations.
Using finger paint is a fun and creative technique used in child play therapy. It allows the child to express their emotions and feelings through art. This technique is particularly useful for children who have difficulty expressing themselves verbally.
Externalization play involves using toys or objects to externalize the child's problems. This technique allows the child to view their problems as separate from themselves, which can help them gain a better understanding of their emotions and experiences.
Three Deep Breaths
Three deep breaths is a relaxation technique used in child play therapy. It involves asking the child to take three deep breaths, which can help them relax and manage their emotions. This technique may be particularly useful for children who experience separation anxiety or stress.
Other Relaxation Tools
Many play therapy games are designed to help a child relax so they may feel more comfortable in a therapeutic setting. For example, therapists use tools like calm-down bottles, which are bottles with liquid and glitter, much like a snow globe. The therapist instructs the child to shake up the bottle and then coaches them on how to calm down before the contents of the bottle settle.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) During Play
Trained play therapists typically use play therapy, such as free drawing or sand tray play, along with cognitive behavioral therapy sessions to help children more easily express their thoughts and feelings.
Cognitive behavioral therapy aims to help individuals recognize patterns, thoughts, or behaviors that are distressing or unhelpful. It may also help rewire the brain over time so that children can build healthier habits, behaviors, and thoughts.
In the context of play therapy, the play therapist can use CBT by letting children have some time to draw or play and then talking with them about the meaning behind their creations.
The Four Stages Of Play Therapy
The play therapy process typically follows consistent stages. These include the initial introduction and tentative acceptance stage, the negative reaction stage, the growing stage, and the completion stage.
A family member, often a parent, will first bring the child to see a play therapist, or a registered play therapist supervisor for an initial intake interview and pre-assessment.
Once the therapist has established what the child might need the most help with, they can decide on play therapy techniques that will best serve them.
The first few sessions are about gaining tentative acceptance from the child and increasing their enjoyment of the play therapy room.
Therapy Options for You and Your Child
If you are a parent of a child experiencing mental health difficulties or developmental challenges, it is important for you to find support, too. Speaking to a therapist is recommended in these circumstances to help develop healthy coping skills for the feelings of stress and anxiety that may accompany the role of caregiver.
Because it offers so much convenience, flexibility, and positive outcomes, many choose to speak to a therapist online. Platforms such as BetterHelp regularly match patients to licensed, accredited therapists with a wide range of expertise. Sessions can be held from home or anywhere with an internet connection, any time that’s convenient for your schedule.
If your child is between the ages of 13-18 years old, you may also want to consider TeenCounseling,- a platform BetterHelp has dedicated to teens. Read below for some reviews of TeenCounseling and BetterHelp counselors from parents experiencing different issues.
Children develop their expressive language and social skills throughout childhood. They may know they have troubling feelings, but they often can't understand them, or communicate them using words, until they are older and more mature. Play therapy games may help them make sense of angry feelings, for example, and give them an alternative means of expression.
If you’re thinking about having your child speak to a therapist, and you believe they may benefit from child centered play therapy, it's important to vet your options and find an expert with experience in play therapy techniques. A good therapist will work closely with you and your child to assess their needs and develop a treatment plan tailored to them. They will also support your child throughout the therapeutic process and provide a safe, loving environment for them to express themselves fully.
Commonly Asked Questions
What Techniques Are Used In Play Therapy?
What Should Be In A Play Therapy Room?
What are role-play therapy examples?
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What happens in a play therapy session?
What are non-directive play therapy tasks?
What are functional play activities?
What are the two types of play therapy?
What are the 4 types of role play?
What are role-playing scenarios?
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