Children can lack the ability to talk about their mental health the way adults do through counseling. For this reason, play therapy was introduced as a psychological treatment to help navigate children’s mental health. Play therapy focuses on treating children through play with the goal to teach children to process their emotions and better articulate their problems through a medium familiar to them. Play therapy is used to treat children, usually between the ages of 3 to 12, in a comfortable playroom where they feel safe. The playroom usually has few rules to ensure the child does not feel restricted and to encourage free expression. In play therapy, therapists watch the child engage in play and guide the child to learn healthier and more respectful forms of expression to better their mental well-being.

For example: A child’s parents seek help for their child whose mental health has been affected by their ongoing divorce. The child will not speak to their parents and will explode into fits of rage the parents feel they can never anticipate. The therapist can help the client by:

  • Providing a safe space for the child to express their feelings of anger and engage in healthy play.
  • Use play therapy to understand the child’s feelings towards their parents. For example, by prompting the child to draw a family picture, giving the child a magic wand to grant three wishes, or role-playing the stressful elements of the divorce.
  • Teach the child healthier outlets for when they feel angry and develop a plan on how to better the child’s communication with their parents.

Sometimes parents and others will doubt the benefit of play therapy because it seems like ‘nothing is happening’ in the session. However, developmental models show us that children learn about their world through play, and they also learn through modeling behavior. Much of what occurs during play therapy looks just like that…nothing much…..but they are learning, adjusting, and being shown another way to cope.

Interested in getting your child into play therapy? Reach out to lisa@kkjpsych.com.

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