When parents look toward therapy for their kids, they often wonder what can be gained from "just playing." What they don't realize at first is that play therapy is anything but "just playing." Through play, I am able to see the inner world of the child I'm working with. How a child plays and what is revealed through play says so much about the child. A play therapist also uses techniques to see the whole child and affirm the child is being seen.
In our busy world, we as parents, often don't put enough emphasis on play. We tend to tell our kids to play by themselves and hope they do. Playing together is important for the parent-child attachment bond. Being playful with your child from a young age, and continuing to show a playful side as they grow, allows the child to feel confident playing alone and empowers their independence as they grow.
In the therapy room, play allows children to gain a sense of control. Whether the play is directive or non-directive, the child is able to make choices within their play. The toys are chosen carefully by the therapist, allowing children to explore themes that may come out through play.
The most amazing sessions occur when children are able to explore and complete trauma through play. They may play the trauma out as it happened, or it may come out through play themes. As a therapist, watching a child play out their trauma is emotional and beautiful to experience. It is important for me to be the child's anchor as they play out their trauma, and to help them contain it following the play.
While play feels like something that should come naturally to children, it is very rewarding to teach kids who don't play. The ability to play is a privilege. The child must have a felt sense of safety in order to play. They must feel a sense of power and control. If the child does not feel this at home, or ever, the therapist must create this in the therapy room to allow the child to experience play and feel validated by their play.
I have seen children explore and discover through play. I have seen them experience the power and control they lack in their lives. I've seen children who have had to grow up too fast experience what they were missing from childhood. I have seen children grow and change through play. I have witnessed them regulating and better understanding their feelings. I have watched them contain and rationalize their fears. I have seen children just be kids. Play is a powerful therapeutic tool when used wisely and correctly.