In the process of growing up, most children experience difficulty adjusting at some time. Play therapy allows children to learn self-control, self-respect, responsibility to control their feelings, and creativity in making choices and solving problems. Just as adults would use words in therapy to discuss problems, children are given the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings through their natural form of communication, play, using specific toys that have been selected to create a safe and accepting environment for children to explore their feelings, especially their fears and anger.
Children are more comfortable with play than verbal interactions because they are still developing the necessary skills for language and abstract thinking. Through play, children are provided a safe place in which they can process their experiences and feelings, allowing them to engage in self-healing processes where conflicts can be resolved and feelings communicated.
For children, toys are their words and play is their language, providing a developmentally responsive means for expressing thoughts and feelings, exploring relationships, making sense of experiences, disclosing wishes, and developing coping strategies. This has a great impact on the therapeutic process because it allows for the therapist to experience and actively relate and respond in the immediacy of the child’s experiences. Symbolic play allows children to freely assimilate their experiences without environmental constraint, and allows the child to distance him or herself enough from the event to make the play experience safe. Through repetitive symbolic play experiences, the child has the opportunity to change or reverse the outcome in the play activity and the child has the opportunity to experience being in control of the experience, allowing the child to move toward an inner resolution.
Examples of Play Therapy Include:
Nurturing Play: Such as having a child feed, hold, hug or take care of another character, or the child taking care of a baby, animal, or character. It may mean to the child that they have a need for nurturance from others, or they identify with the baby or character and in taking care of the baby or character, the child feels cared for.
Aggressor-Victim Play: Dumping toys or making a mess may mean to the child that they feel powerless in daily life, so he or she acts as an aggressor to gain a sense of control, or it may be showing that the child has a lot of angry feelings without understanding why, or it could be an indication of something the child has experienced.
Sorting or Fixing Play: Such as putting toys in order or fixing a character or toy that has been broken. This may mean the child has a desire for order if their world feels chaotic, or a desire to feel “ok” or have a mastery of their world.
Sleep Play: A child going to sleep, or having a character go to sleep may mean that the child is feeling overwhelmed and needs to retreat or the child has concerns about the separation that comes with going to sleep, or the child is replaying or processing an incident that happened to them at bedtime or in the night.