Play therapy is a specific counselling approach in which games/toys and mediums such as clay/drawings and paint are used to help a child/adolescent to express their emotions, thoughts/wishes and needs.
It helps the child to understand muddled feelings and upsetting events that they have not had the chance or the skills to sort out properly. Rather than having to explain what is troubling them, children use play to communicate at their own level and at their own pace without feeling interrogated/threatened.
What happens during play therapy sessions?
The initial focus of the therapy is on building a safe and trusted relationship between a child and the therapist. This relationship is a very important tool in the therapeutic process because a child/adolescent will more readily talk about their intimate feelings when they feel respected/accepted/safe.
In the sessions, the therapist uses specific techniques to assess how a child/adolescent experiences their world and how they communicate/react to the events/people in their world. Children are lead to become aware of what they are feeling and opportunities are given to express these feelings. Awareness is a very important process in play therapy, because without awareness, change is not possible. Throughout the therapy, the child/adolescent is empowered/supported to learn more about who they are and to talk about things that are frightening or painful.
What can be achieved through play therapy?
Play therapy can be useful for any child of four years and older.
It can help to become aware of what feelings and how these feelings manifest in behaviour. They can learn how to become better at regulating emotions and expressing them in constructive ways. If a child can address any problems they may have from a young age, it will help them in later life. The combination of this self-knowledge and training in social skills may help a child to become more assertive/self-confident and to have self-respect and respect for others.
Can play therapy be used with adolescents?
Play Therapy is very effective with adolescents. Sessions focus on creative techniques to help adolescents become aware of and understand their feelings/thoughts. An example would be to ask the adolescent to draw a situation, feeling or dream, enact it or model it in clay.
Music is sometimes used when building the relationship or for expressing emotion.
Play therapy is an effective aid in assisting adolescents to learn about themselves, to clear up their cluttered emotions/thoughts, learn to accept themselves and to become more mature/self-confident and have self-esteem.
Interaction with the parents forms a crucial part of therapy
The therapist usually talks to the parents prior to the first session with the child, because it is important to understand the context in which the behaviour of the child has developed. It is also necessary to know what the parent’s communication/discipline patterns with the child are, and what the natures of boundaries are. The therapist then works with the child alone, but will contact the parents should important issues arise.
The therapist/parents will work together to understand the child and to develop constructive/respectful and supportive ways of communication with the child.