As most of you who have interacted with children know, it can be difficult to get children to disclose what they are thinking and feeling. Sometimes that is because children may not understand how they are feeling or may not have the words to describe what is going on inside them emotionally. This difficulty with communication can also be exacerbated by various types of trauma. That is one of the reasons why traditional talk therapy used with adults does not work with children. Another reason is that children do not developmentally have the cognitive skills necessary to engage in talk therapy. However, what children sometimes lack in their ability to communicate their thoughts and feelings verbally, they make up for in their ability to express themselves through the language of play.
Along with learning and growing at home, school, and in the world on a daily basis, the other job children have is to play. Through play, children process events that happen to them in life, practice things they have learned and/or observed, and attempt to learn new problem solving strategies. That is what makes play therapy such a successful intervention with most children.
When child therapy clients come to session each week, they are provided with a safe and supportive environment where they can work through their difficulties by playing. The client will be drawn to toys or activities in the office he/she can use to tell the therapist what his/her needs and problems are. The client’s issues will come out through the play and it is the therapist’s job to pick up on the problems being communicated and address them with the client, whether it be through the play or in a more direct fashion.
According to the Association for Play Therapy and their brochure Why Play Therapy, play therapy has been effective in treating children with “a wide variety of social, emotional, behavioral, and learning problems.” The brochure goes on to say:
Play Therapy can help children and others to:
Take responsibility for their behavior and replace inappropriate behavior with more successful behavior;
Develop new and creative solutions to their problems;
Develop respect and acceptance of themselves and others;
Learn to experience and express emotions and to be empathic with respect to the thoughts and feelings of others;
Learn new social skills (p. 3).
For more information on Play Therapy, visit the Association for Play Therapy.