When I first heard about Play Therapy, I thought, "That sounds fun"! I was in my last year of school and looking for an internship working with children. There was an opening in Child and Family Therapy, and I started working as a play therapist with children. I quickly learned that play therapy was perfect for children in so many ways.
Here are the top 5 reasons I find Play Therapy to be beneficial:
Children communicate through their play. Ever notice a child incorporating a theme from a recent event into their play? As they learn about the world around them, children will often have themes to their play that may be symbolic of their real life experiences. Play is used to explore and integrate issues that may be hard to put into words.
Children are not miniature adults. Children are still developing their higher brain functions. Children"s brains are growing and so is their prefrontal cortex. This is part of the brain that can use problem-solving skills such as making rational decisions over impulsive ones, or using past experiences and current experiences to weigh decisions. Children may not have insight into their behavior, the reasons, or causes of unwanted behavior. Helping children to think like adults can be difficult and they may become bored, frustrated, or confused. If a learning opportunity is turned into a game, a story, or something playful, a child is more open to listening and exploring.
Children will participate if it"s fun. Ask a child to put on their shoes to go run errands, and a child may just delay or flat out refuse. Ask a child to help you make cookies and they become highly motivated. Play Therapy is fun and I"ve seen many children eager to come to counseling, where they have a place to be playful and be in their natural state.
It may appear like it"s just play, but there is so much more going on. Play Therapy uses stories, games, art, and other activities to talk about problems, identify feelings, learn to communicate better, and develop pro-social behaviors. During play, the right and left hemispheres of the brain are able to integrate experiences, form new concepts and memories, and make sense of things that are confusing.
Play therapy is a developmentally appropriate practice. You wouldn"t expect a young child to sit still on a couch and tell you about their problems for an hour. Children are in the present moment and usually don"t think about problems when they aren"t happening. Play Therapy provides trauma-informed, supportive/strengths-based, child-centered techniques that allow a child to participate in therapy in ways that give them control, autonomy, and boosts self-esteem.