Written by: Kerri Bythesea – The Pro Forum Community of Practice
Play therapy is a form or counselling developed for children between the ages of 2 and 12 however these parameters can certainly be extended based on the individuals needs, cognitive functioning and developmental level. It is also extremely powerful in geriatric counselling after all who does not like to explore miniatures in a sand tray and create stories using a dolls house? Within the overarching term of play therapy lay numerous varieties of including child led, directive, nature and sand tray. A play therapist is a person who has studied play therapy at a post graduate level. Within Australia there are several registration bodies that ensure a high standard of education, supervision and experience in this method.
Young children or children who have experienced trauma do not have the communication skills required to participate in talk based therapy. Play therapy allows them to use their natural language of play and the therapist joins the child in their world, on their level. During child centred play therapy the child is free to explore the playroom and use the toys in any way that they want. The child is able to act out their emotions and inner feelings. The therapist observes for reoccurring themes in the child’s play and takes note of the frequency of these themes over a number of sessions. In a more directive approach the therapist may present the child with a doll house and encourage the child to play out situations at home or a sand tray to use miniatures to represent a situation at school. Card games can be easily adapted as well for example when exploring emotions a client could be asked to demonstrate anger when a red uno card comes up or being relaxed when a blue one appears during a game.
Play therapy is an effective intervention because it supports children to develop self esteem and confidence, promotes resilience and coping skills and assists them to develop effective ways of communicating their pain and fears in a safe therapeutic environment specifically designed with their developmental level in mind. The therapeutic relationship between the client and therapist is essential to allow the child to feel comfortable to develop an understanding and explore their sometimes painful world.
The list of children for whom play therapy is beneficial for is endless. Children who have experienced trauma, foster or adopted children, sleeping and eating disorders, exposure to abuse, grief and loss, children with additional needs are just a few examples. As mentioned previously play therapy is certainly not restricted to children. People who have suffered a stroke, adults with PTSD and unresolved childhood issues as well as dementia patients and adults with intellectual disabilities. It is a fabulous and effective form of counselling and is offered by many therapists who specialise in the care of children.