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The Power of Play

Play therapy is a type of therapy that has been gaining more attention in recent years. Although, play therapy has been around since at least the 1940s (with psychologist Virginia Axline), some claim it started earlier. While play therapy is effective and popular, many do not know what play therapy entails.


What Is Play Therapy?

Many people (even those within the mental health field) think that play therapy is simply playing with a child to get the child to open up, engage, and talk. However, this is NOT play therapy. Play therapy is methodically using play and toys to help children process through their feelings and stressors. Play therapists are required to go through specific play therapy training, in addition to the education and training they completed to become a therapist. In order to become effective play therapists, mental health practitioners have to learn about different modalities and theories of play therapy, child development, and common mental health conditions in children.

In play therapy, child clients do not have to speak for therapy to work. This makes it a great model for children affected by anxiety, selective mutism, or other conditions where they may struggle to speak in therapy. According to Garry Landreth (a famous play therapist and considered to be the grandfather of play therapy), “Toys are children’s words and play is their language.” While adults can talk through what is bothering them and process stressors through their words, most children do not. Children naturally learn and process through play. The play therapist’s role is to set the stage for therapeutic play to occur, notice features of and shifts in children’s play, and use therapeutic interventions to allow for healing and learning to occur.


What Is Play Therapy Helpful For?

According to Jill Robinson, play therapy is a one-size-fits-all method for children. Through play therapy, children learn to communicate more efficiently, process through feelings, express themselves, establish problem solving skills, increase self-esteem, work through situations that are bothersome in their lives, modify behavior, and learn a how to relate to others. While everyone can benefit from play therapy (yes, even teenagers and adults!), play therapy is most appropriate for children ages 3 to 12. Play therapy is effective for treating anxiety, depression, grief, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), autism spectrum disorder, trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), attachment issues (e.g., reactive attachment disorder, or RAD), anger issues, and physical and learning disabilities. Play therapy also helps children cope with a variety of difficult situations in life, such as divorce, grief and loss, hospitalization and/or chronic illness of their selves or others, abuse or violence, natural disasters, and other stressful events. Play therapy is effective with all ages, genders, and issues that bring children to therapy. Additionally, many children find play therapy to be fun and enjoyable, which may help your child want to participate in sessions.


What Should I Expect from Play Therapy?

At Clinical Counseling Associates of Kansas City, play therapy sessions typically last around 50 minutes and start off with weekly sessions. Research suggests a typical course of play therapy will take approximately 20 sessions of play therapy to see results. However, the course of treatment may be shorter or longer depending upon several factors, such as the individual complexity of each child’s case, time needed to develop rapport, how the child responds to play therapy, and the individual play therapist. The play therapist will meet individually with the child, child and parents, or a combination of both, depending upon the issues present and the modality utilized by the play therapist.


For more information on play therapy or to find a play therapist, visit the Association for Play Therapy’s website at https://www.a4pt.org/


Written by Jill Robinson, Registered Play Therapist (RPT)

Jill uses a variety of play therapy approaches to work with children and adolescents, including client centered play therapy, AutPlay (a type of therapy for autism spectrum disorder and developmental disorders), Adlerian play therapy, sand trays, and pet assisted play therapy (with her dog, Thor).


For more information or to schedule an appointment with a CCA KC therapist, please visit our website at www.clinicalcounselingassociates.org or call us at 816-781-8550.

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