Play Therapy for Children

As a counselor, I try to avoid the ever-so-cliché phrase, “How does that make you feel?”
Sure we talk about emotions, thoughts, and behaviors,
but I try to help my clients reach newer levels of insight into their dilemmas.
I help them discover how their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are related.
We talk about how they can change their behaviors or speak differently to get their desired results.

The point is, we talk.
We talk the entire session.

Luckily, I work with adults, couples, and teenagers.
They like to talk.

Counseling with children is different.
“Play” is the natural language of children, and “toys” are their words.
It is through “play” that they work out problems, act out frustrations, and solve their dilemmas.

Have you ever heard your child say that his favorite toy is mad? Or scared? Or happy?
That toy at the moment is probably a metaphor for how your child is feeling.

Is your child’s stuffed tiger afraid to go to the dentist?
Is her favorite doll mad because all the other dolls went to school, and now the doll is alone?

It is common for children to use "play" to describe their feelings because that is easier for their minds to comprehend and discuss. Try talking with your children “in the metaphor” to help them explore feelings or solve problems. Talk about how the tiger could overcome his fears, or talk about how the doll could feel happy again. "Play" with them.

And now back to the idea of counseling. . .  
Most therapists aren’t set up to work with children in a “play” setting.
The traditional play room is full of toys, games, puppets, art supplies, costumes, and more.

Whereas the traditional adult therapy room has comfy chairs or a sofa.
See the dilemma?

Play therapy happens in a play room. It requires more than a box of crayons and a bag of toys. Just because a counselor says he/she is willing to work with young children doesn't mean they practice play therapy. 

Look for a practitioner with the credential RPT (Registered Play Therapist) or RPT-S (Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor) after their name. These therapists have completed extensive training and practice in play therapy to earn that designation. They also complete continuing education credits every year related specifically to play therapy. These therapists know their stuff!! I am grateful they work so hard to be effective for children. I have good friends that perform this special job, and I am in awe of their skills.

Here's a helpful directory from the United States' Association for Play Therapy; click to search in your area.

If you have a child who is struggling, please consider this special type of counseling. Play therapy is especially appropriate for children ages 3 through 12 years old. Play therapy allows trained mental health practitioners to assess children's play, help them cope with difficult emotions, and find solutions to problems.
Children struggling with all types of problems can benefit from play therapy, from behavioral outbursts to trauma victims to shyness or to adjusting to a new sibling.

According to the Association for Play Therapy website I mentioned earlier, play therapy helps children:
      1. Become more responsible for behaviors and develop more successful strategies.
      2. Develop new and creative solutions to problems.
      3. Develop respect and acceptance of self and others.
      4. Learn to experience and express emotion.
      5. Cultivate empathy and respect for thoughts and feelings of others.
      6. Learn new social skills and relational skills with family.
      7. Develop self-efficacy and thus a better assuredness about their abilities.

Here are some helpful resources for parenting interested in play therapy:

I hope you find this information useful. If you think your child might benefit from play therapy, contact a local counselor and set up an initial consult for your family.

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