Is play therapy effective?

Many of us have heard about the concept of Play Therapy, a technique used with children experiencing emotional difficulties. But, do we know what it entails and the effectiveness thereof? Most children grow up in an environment where having fun using toys and various activities are part of their daily routine. Therefore, it is relevant to question the effectiveness outcome of playing within a therapeutic milieu versus playing in their normal routine at home or school. Thus, understanding the importance of play therapy and its different techniques used for a variety of difficulties will help create a better understanding as to why it is important to consider play therapy.

Play therapy always starts with the counsellor providing a safe space for the child, allowing them to feel comfortable and at ease during the sessions. Secondly, developing a routine within each session with the use of certain activities specific to each child’s needs is vital for the therapeutic process. Not only will it provide security, but it will also allow trust and respect to develop within the relationship.

Play therapy is generally used in cases where children are severely traumatised, but the great thing about this technique is it can be used in different ways addressing almost any kind of difficulty they are experiencing. A few examples of what play therapy can be used for includes, helping children who suffer from anxiety, ADHD, anger management problems, social issues and many more.

There are usually two techniques the counsellor may use within the counselling sessions. The first is a Non- Directive Approach, this approach is normally used when the counsellor has limited information to the child’s background and unsure of the primary reason why the child needs counselling. This approach includes where the child plays with toys and participates in activities, and as they relax starts unconsciously expressing their thoughts and feelings through play. The counsellor then observes this behaviour, taking note as to what is being expressed within each session. With the information gathered, the counsellor can then decide what activities will work best and will work most effectively for the rest of the sessions.

The second approach is called the Directive Approach. This approach is mostly used when the counsellor is aware of the history of the child and the reason parents are seeking support.

An example would be if a child was physically or sexually abused, the counsellor can then with the use of anatomically correct dolls encourage the child to play out what had happened allowing the child to demonstrate using dolls. This is pre-planned in order to help the child work through their trauma.

As the therapeutic process develops and the main problems have been identified, change can start to take place. Once the child acts out situations in a detached way through the use of play, the healing process will begin. This way each child can confront the events they might have experienced or feelings that they have which they are unaware of in a less overwhelming way. With the counsellor leading the sessions, the child’s current behaviour and ways of thinking will be replaced with new ways of functioning that will be more effective.

It will provide a healthy outlet as emotions are expressed more positively. It also helps with improving each child’s creativity, problem-solving skills, coping skills, building confidence as well as making decisions and accepting responsibility. These are but only a few long-term benefits mentioned that play therapy can provide.

Many times, we as adults forget that the youngsters that go through these traumatic events or difficulties are only children. They have a different way of dealing with things and expressing their emotions. As soon as they feel understood the positive effects that will follow are tremendous. This therapeutic technique is not only effective for children, but this technique permits all adults to see things from a different perspective and allows them to think childlike again.

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