It is my hope that this article will provide resources and information that will help parents understand how and why play therapy works in the effort of supporting children in emotional and mental healing. I hope therapists will share this article with parents directly and pull from these resources in order to further the effort to educate our communities on the power of play therapy.
The professional organization Association for Play Therapy provides resources that include the latest research and views from the most respected and well established leaders in the field of play therapy along with some terrific videos that do a remarkable job of explaining the power and efficacy of play therapy.
Dr. Charles Schafer has noted that we are seeing more and more that there are large numbers of respected mental health professionals acknowledging that play is a vitally important contributor to the well-being of people of all ages. (Schaefer, 1993).
Play has been recognized by philosophers over the span of time as a powerful agent of growth and change.
“You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” – Richard Lingard (not Plato!)
Dr. Garry Landreth, one of the greatest teachers and leaders in the field of play therapy and author of The Art of the Relationship, has said that play relieves stress, enhances connections in relationships, stimulates creative expression and exploration, and helps us regulate our emotions. Dr. Landreth has gone on to explain that in play therapy the toys in the play room are the child’s words and the play itself is the child’s language.
Play therapists are trained to understand the language of play.
Another of our most revered leader, trainer and supervisor in the field of play therapy is Eliana Gil. Gil has explained, that play therapists use play therapy in a strategic way to assist children in the process of expressing whatever may be bothering them through the play.
The Association for Play Therapy defines play therapy as “…the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.”
Research shows that play therapy is indeed effective for children experiencing a wide range of challenges that range across the realm of social, emotional, and behavioral issues. Children facing life stressors and major transitions are able to heal, integrate and grow in the play room with a trained play therapist.
It is not uncommon for parents to first feel resistance the concept of bringing their child to play with an adult in a play room when there are emotional or behavior issues. For therapists who are helping parents understand how and why play therapy works, it’s important to spend time with parents in the beginning explaining what it’s all about but also to include parents in the play therapy process with regular parent consultations ad to be available to answer questions and discuss the treatment plan.
There are different approaches to play therapy from pure child centered play therapy which is non-directive to the other end of the spectrum in which therapist use very directive interventions with specific aims in session. Regardless of approach, all play therapy helps therapists to connect to the child through play-based activities and experience.
5 things for therapists in helping parents understand how and why play therapy works:
- Play is the natural language for children through which they explore, express and experience. We are trained in knowing how to meet them there and speak their language so we can understand what is happening for them that they may otherwise not be able to express verbally
- Children act out what is bothering them metaphorically in their play. We know how to see these metaphors and we know how to facilitate experiences in the play room that help children naturally resolve what is bothering them.
- Play therapy has been shown by research to be the most effective way to connect with children therapeutically and provide them a means to heal and grow.
- Play is a natural stress reliever. When children get to play they are able to release stress and this helps them regulate their emotions.
- Play is a way for children to bond and connect with others.
Helping parents understand how and why play therapy works sometimes comes by sharing some powerful videos produced by the Association for Play Therapy such as these 3 videos below and you can find research references here .