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Play Therapy and Why It’s Important

Never heard of Play Therapy before? Check out this short introductory guide on what it is and why it’s important! If you provide therapy to children, adding Play Therapy to your work might cover more ground!

By Audrey Liz Perez on Jul 09, 2024.

Fact Checked by Nate Lacson.

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Play Therapy

Hello, there! If you are a psychologist, counselor, or mental health therapist looking to expand your work to provide care for children, you might want to add Play Therapy to your list of Things to Include in My Practice! Play Therapy, in general, is a wonderful way to help children and adolescents work through their challenges, may it be behavioral, communication, or emotional!

This short guide is a mini-introduction to what Play Therapy is. If this type of therapy interests you, check out our other guides about general Play Therapy Techniques and specific Play Therapy Activities.

If Play Therapy, in general, is something you would like to explore after reading our mini-guides, make sure to get trained and certified through the nearest organization to you that provides training in Play Therapy!

What is Play Therapy?

Now, it’s time for you to know what Play Therapy is. Play Therapy is a practice where therapists provide care for children and adolescents through play! Play, meaning exciting activities that have them express themselves freely through interacting with others and even through toys! It’s a way for therapists to help children work through challenges they are dealing with in terms of their emotions, behavior, and communication with others, which is something that regular talk-based therapy and counseling may not be able to do.

When a licensed healthcare professional uses Play Therapy for the children they are caring for, they do so by creating a safe environment for them to feel accepted and to play as much as they want for the time they are staying with the professional.

In the professional’s Play Therapy space, there will be a wide variety of things that children can engage with. There will be toys that they can play with to exercise their imaginations by making scenes, there are games that they can play with other kids to help them develop relationships and learn how to communicate with others, plus art materials to help them exhibit their creativity and share it with others.

You might see other things in a Play Therapy space, and they differ from professional to professional. It depends on what a professional thinks would work for their approaches. Sometimes, there are things that you might find unusual, like sand trays and even puppets.

The goal of any professional using Play Therapy is to help kids develop ways to process their emotions healthily and intelligently to become more resilient during distress. Not just that, but Play Therapy also helps children develop their communication skills, especially when there are other kids in the Play Therapy space. Last, it also helps them develop problem-solving skills, which are essential when they are older.

Life can be hard and, for many, unfair. A part of what makes life hard is growing up and learning that we’re all going to have to go through difficult challenges in different stages of our lives, many of which happen during our formative years. Through Play Therapy, professionals can provide the space that children need to help them develop a better sense of self, know what they want and discover what they are good at, and most of all, prepare them for whatever challenges they might face as they grow up.

When is Play Therapy typically used?

Play Therapy is primarily for children and adolescents. It is usually used when parents or guardians enroll them in a Play Therapy program because of suspected or confirmed challenges that a child is having regarding emotions and behavior.

When we say “challenges,” we mean difficulties and conditions like social anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), working through traumatic events, processing grief, and a whole lot more.

On the part of the parents/guardians, we highly recommend that, as soon as they notice that their child is going through something that is impacting their mental well-being, then it’s best to enroll them in a Play Therapy program immediately. This is so that problems can be identified as early as possible, and a particular care plan via Play Therapy can be created to help them overcome these problems, to help them deal with similar troubles in the future, and cope healthily.

These aren’t just used on kids, though. While rare, Play Therapy can also be used on adults seeking help beyond simple talk-based therapy/counseling. If they have post-traumatic stress disorder, suffer from depression, or some other mental health issue or disorder, Play Therapy can help them rediscover their inner child. If not their inner child, well, Play Therapy can help them rediscover what they love doing and what they like about themselves, which hopefully helps them in the long run.

The same applies to them! Adults can learn how to develop healthy coping mechanisms and problem-solving methods to deal with the challenges that they face!

How does Play Therapy often work?

This depends on the healthcare professional providing Play Therapy. How they do things and what they include in their respective Play Therapy programs will vary, but there will still be similarities in their practices!

Play Therapy, in general, usually comes in several sessions with a child. The length of these sessions, as well as the frequency, will depend on the child, what their needs are, and the challenges that they face, though there will be times when a particular session has a set time, especially if the professional believes that including a child in a group of other children is necessary.

Usually, when a child is enrolled in a Play Therapy program, the first thing that the professional needs to do, like any other therapy or counseling program, is to establish rapport with the child. The child will need to be able to trust the professional, so the professional must create a safe space for them to establish trust. How do you establish trust with a kid? Play with them!

Throughout the Play Therapy sessions with kids, professionals often include a wide variety of things for children to play/engage with, like toys, art materials, and even games that professionals and children can play together. These things should help children explore and express themselves in non-harmful ways.

During these sessions, professionals should observe each child to make educated assumptions about how they are like emotionally and how they behave in certain situations. Doing so will help professionals determine the kind of support they should give each child. Do the children like listening to professionals tell stories? Do they also have a knack for telling stories or at least an interest? Then, maybe you can provide them with children’s books for them to read out loud or even puppets so they conduct a short scenario for everyone to watch and enjoy!

Play Therapy isn’t just meant for just professionals and children. There will be times when parents and guardians will be involved so that they better understand their kids. This is essential so they know how to support their kids at home.

All in all, Play Therapy is a collaborative endeavor that seeks to provide the necessary support that a child needs to develop coping mechanisms, problem-solving skills, a sense of self, and more that they will need growing up, all through healthy and engaging activities!

What are the benefits of Play Therapy?

Play Therapy can benefit the child in numerous ways! Here are some of the things that it can do for children:

  1. It will help them develop social skills and improve communication!
  • Some Play Therapy sessions will involve a child being placed in a group of other children! The programs for these group sessions often involve them in activities where they can interact with one another to learn how to communicate safely and respectfully. Through cooperation, taking turns doing certain things, and sharing stuff like toys and art materials, children can learn how to communicate better with others, especially of their age, and how to establish rapport and trust with others.
  1. It will also teach them how to solve problems independently or with groups!
  • Problem-solving is an essential skill for anyone, especially during our adult years when “the real world” is something we have to face, all the more when we start families or start living on our own. Play Therapy is an excellent way to help them develop problem-solving skills in fun and creative ways, on their own or with a group!
  1. It is a good way to help them process their emotions healthily and boost their self-esteem!
  • Play Therapy can help children take charge of their therapy process in a way. Through toys, games, art materials, or whatever the professional has made available for the children, they can determine what they want to do for themselves and even focus on them. Not just that, but through communication and solving problems with others, they will be able to gain more confidence in themselves and learn how to properly process their emotions in positive ways to get through whatever challenges they face.

How can Carepatron help with Play Therapy?

Carepatron is all about helping professionals by streamlining their work and providing free tools that improve their work and cover more ground!

If you are interested in adding Play Therapy to your line of work after reading this mini-introduction to Play Therapy, we also have other mini-guides talking about general Play Therapy Techniques and even specific Play Therapy Activities!

Once you have received special training and got certified to practice Play Therapy, we encourage you to check more of our platform because you will find more guides about related topics, Play Therapy-related worksheets, assessments, and a whole lot more.

Not only do we offer informative articles about the subject and tools related to it, but we also have a storage system that you can use for your clinical documentation. Of course, just like with any other therapy, you will record the observations you have made during Play Therapy sessions, especially regarding the progress of the kids you are caring for.

If you want to look for a safe place to store your documents, you can upload them to our storage system in a HIPAA-compliant manner. Doing so makes digital backups of your documents! You can even set up who is allowed to access it. Let’s say that, in the future, one of the kids you have handled is grown up and would like to reminisce about the times they spent with you via Play Therapy and how far they have come because of it. You can give them access to your documentation via our storage! You can even redownload them and send them to your former client!

Given all that, not only can we help you improve your work, Carepatron can also help you preserve them!

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Commonly asked questions

Given that toys and games are used in Play Therapy, it sounds like it’s just for kids. Can adults take Play Therapy?

Yes. Who said that toys and games are limited to just kids? Adults can definitely take Play Therapy if they want to explore more than just talk-based therapy/counseling. Doing so might help them rediscover what they loved, which they might have forgotten due to the challenges life threw at them. Doing so might be the necessary step to help them work through what is troubling them, may it be anxiety, depression, or even trauma.

Is Play Therapy enough on its own?

That depends on the child. Sometimes, Play Therapy is enough because it helps children develop a better sense of self, communication skills, problem-solving skills, and healthy ways to process their emotions. If they are troubled by more serious mental health issues and disorders, Play Therapy may not be enough. If that’s the case Play Therapy can be part of a more comprehensive care plan to help cover more ground for the kid.

What types of toys and activities are used in Play Therapy?

The types of toys and activities used in Play Therapy differ from professional to professional. It depends on their approaches. Sometimes there are action figures. Sometimes there are dolls. Some professionals include books for storytelling, while some use puppets to help kids find their inner thespian. But, if you want a general list of techniques used in Play Therapy, check out our Play Therapy Techniques article! If you want specific activities, we have a Play Therapy Activities article just for you!

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