What is Therapeutic Play / Play Therapy?

Play Therapy is a psychotherapy method that uses playing as a tool to resolve children’s difficulties. The play therapist toolkit combines therapeutic tools such as art, music, movement, sand-play and more.
Play Therapy believes in the power of healing that exists inside every child.

The Importance of Playing
Playing is the natural communication media for children. All around the world, in any culture, children will play if they get the opportunity to do so. Children learn about the surrounding world through play, how to communicate in a non-verbal way, how to build a relationship with others and cope with different situations.

The therapeutic play takes the advantages of playing and uses it to promote and foster children with emotional, social and behavioral difficulties. Via playing, children get the opportunity to ‘play out’ their feelings and express themselves in a non-directive way. This will lead to some reveal and healing of the unconsciousness.

Play Therapy Origin
The first record of Play Therapy is in 1919. In the 20th century, some of the most well-known psychologists used playing as a part of their practice with children (e.g. Anna Freud, Melanie Klein). They argued that play could reveal unconscious processes; they also asserted that playing for children is similar to free association used with adult therapy.

Virginia Axline, who followed Carl Rogers “Person Center” approach, founded the modern Play Therapy; she established 8 principles that are the core of the therapeutic play method (e.g. accepting the child as he is, establishing a feeling of permissiveness, reflecting back).

Play Therapy in Action
Play Therapy is a non-directive, non-judgmental and a non-interpretive therapy; the child is motivated to choose what and how he wants to use the toys, within the boundaries of safety. The therapist will follow the child, reflect and reframe. He will respond to the child’s request to enact together, guide him to work on his issues and empower him towards a resolution.

The Play Therapy tool-kit is based on the Holistic Child Approach and was carefully selected after the therapeutic abilities were proven. The toolkit includes:

  • Art materials
  • Sand play
  • Puppets and Masks
  • Drama and role play 
  • Musical instruments
  • Dance & Movement
  • Creative Visualization
  • Storytelling

Why Play Therapy works?

Neuroscience evidence shows that playing releases “good hormones” (e.g. endorphin and oxytocin) in the human brain. These hormones inflict ‘happier’ feelings, reduce aggressiveness and anxiety, bring a calmer mood, encourage openness to learn and produce a better sense of well-being. With guidance and support from a trained play therapist, a positive use of the therapeutic tools in a safe environment will create new connections in the brain that lead to behavioral change.

Who can benefit from Therapeutic Play?
Play therapy is ideal for children between 4 to 14 years old who show emotional, social and conduct difficulties.

Examples of difficulties that Play Therapy can assist:

  • Anger issues
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Communication problems
  • ADHD
  • Social exclusion
  • Underperforming (academically, socially, culturally)
  • Bereavement / loss
  • Attachment issues
  • Behavior issues
  • Separated / Divorced parents
  • Bullied / Bullying
  • Delayed development
  • Bedwetting
  • Abuse (emotional, physical, sexual)
  • Nightmares
  • Trauma
  • Withdrawn Personality

Play Therapy effectiveness:
Over 100,000 cases analyzed by PTUK showed a positive change for 75% of children. In Singapore, positive change has been shown for 81% of children.

How to get started with Play Therapy?

  1. If any concerns have been raised, a referral to a play therapist can be made. The therapist will meet the parent to share their concerns and desired outcomes from therapy.
  2. Parent (and teacher if possible) will be asked to fill in a “Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire”(SDQ) to demonstrate current difficulties and pro-social behavior of the child.
  3. A minimum of 12 sessions is suggested on a weekly basis (45 minutes each). A mid-review with the parent will take place after every 6-8 sessions. Based on the child’s progress, a decision will be made whether to continue or finalize the therapy.

A close relationship and collaboration with the parent and the teacher are strongly advised; by working together, the child will be seen as a whole, he will be better supported and will have a higher chance to accomplish a change.

To empower children with difficulties and support their inner-core growth,
Play Therapy will be an effective intervention option.

Let’s Play Therapy!

 

Bibliography: 
[1] McMahon, L. 2007. The Handbook of Play Therapy. London and New York: Routledge
[2] Barnes, A. M. 2013. The Healing Path with Children, 3rd Edition. Uckfield, England: The Play Therapist Press Limited, The Coach House
[3] Axline, V. 1974. Play Therapy, 2nd EditionA Ballantine Book, the Random House Publication Group
[4] PTUK. 2007. The Application of Neuroscience on Play Therapy. ‘Play for Life’ Journal. Summer ed.
[5] Thomas, J. 2015. How effective is Play Therapy? ‘Play for Life’ Journal. Autumn ed.
[6] SDQInfo. What is the SDQ. http://www.sdqinfo.com.

 

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