Besides working towards full licensure as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I am also working toward certification as a Registered Play Therapist. I am currently under supervision by a Registered Play Therapy Supervisor.
What is Play Therapy?
Play therapy differs from regular play in that the therapist assists children ages 4 to 12 explore and work out their own problems. Play therapy enhances the natural way that children come to understand themselves and their relationships in the world around them (Axline, 1947; Carmichael, 2006; Landreth, 2002). Through play therapy, children learn communication skills, how to express feelings, change behavior, develop problem-solving skills, and learn a variety of ways of relating to others. Play offers children a safe psychological separation from their problems and grants expression of thoughts and feelings that fit with their developmental stage.
Research has shown the effectiveness of play therapy with children who experience a wide variety of social, emotional, behavioral, and learning problems, including: children whose problems are associated with life stressors, such as chronic illness, hospitalization, death, divorce, relocation, absorption of stressful experiences, physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, and natural disasters (Bratton, Ray, Rhine, & Jones, 2005; LeBlanc & Ritchie, 2001; Lin & Bratton, 2015; Ray, Armstrong, Balkin, & Jayne, 2015; Reddy, Files-Hall, & Schaefer, 2005).
Play therapy helps children:
- Become more responsible for behaviors and develop more favorable tactics.
- Develop new and creative answers to problems.
- Develop acceptance and respect of self and others.
- Learn to experience, express and share emotions.
- Nourish empathy and respect for thoughts and feelings of others.
- Learn new relational skills and social skills with family.
- Develop self-efficacy and thus more confidence about their abilities.
Play therapy has been verified as equally effective across age, gender, and presenting problem. In addition, positive treatment effects were found to be pronounced when a parent was actively involved in the child’s treatment.
How Long Does Play Therapy Take?
Each play therapy session can vary in length yet they usually last about 30 to 50 minutes. Sessions are normally held weekly. Research proposes that it takes an average of 20 play therapy sessions to work out the problems of the typical child referred for treatment. Of course, some children may make progress much faster while more serious or persistent problems may take longer to correct or heal (Carmichael, 2006; Landreth, 2002).
How May My Family Be Involved in Play Therapy?
Families play a paramount role in the healing processes of children. The interplay between children’s problems and their families is invariably complex. At times children develop problems as a way of indicating that there is something wrong in the family. There are other times the entire family can become distressed as a result of the child’s problems being so unruly. In each and every case, children and families heal quicker when they work together.
As the play therapist I will decide how and when to involve some or all members of the family in the play therapy. I will want to communicate regularly with the child’s parents or caretakers to develop a plan for resolving problems as they are discovered and to check in regularly on the progress of the treatment. Other avenues can include involving a) the parents or caretakers directly in the treatment by reworking how they interact with the child at home and b) the entire family in family play therapy (Guerney, 2000). Whatever the degree of involvement of the family members, they routinely play an important role in the child’s healing process (Carey & Schaefer, 1994; Gil & Drewes, 2004).