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What Is Play Therapy?

The act of playing has been declared an international human right, according to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Play is such a vital part of health and development in children that it is every child’s right to have time to play. 

Play therapy is an incredibly valuable form of therapy when helping children process their trauma. Play therapy allows children a space to play and pretend. They will ultimately talk with the therapist, play out scenarios, and develop a therapeutic alliance without judgment.

Goals of Play Therapy

Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience states that play therapy has strong boundaries and limits, creating a safe atmosphere where children can play out their feelings and adults can retain professionalism. The goals of play therapy are established with the parent or guardian and upheld with progress reports from the therapist. Often, children will not be able to identify improvement in play therapy but may display improvement in their behavior. 

During the first session of play therapy, the child is allowed to explore all the toys in the room. The therapist will open up the session of play for the child to choose what toys they like best and how they will play while getting a feel for the space they will be in. 

Parents or guardians may be part of the first few sessions, though this depends on the child’s ability to separate from the parents. As the child separates from their parents, they are allowed to play freely and may act out what is bothering them. There are eight main tenets for play therapy that a therapist must meet for play therapy to work for a child:

#1. Forming a warm, friendly, therapeutic alliance with the child

#2. Accepting the child.

#3. Establishing a therapeutic environment that fosters permissiveness.

#4. Recognizing and reflecting back the feelings that the child expresses. 

#5. Recognizing and respecting the ability of the child to solve their own problems. 

#6. Being non-directive and letting the child lead the therapy session.

#7. Recognizing that therapy is a gradual process.

#8. Establishing limitations to anchor therapy in reality. 

With these goals in mind, a therapist can establish trust in the child and allow the child to act out what happened that is bothering them. In cases of childhood trauma, a child may act out a scenario they witnessed or that happened directly to them. 

This allows the therapist to process the child’s thoughts and feelings with them as they act it out. The therapist can guide the child into healing strategies that use good choices for help or closure, helping the child to feel safe again even though this trauma occurred. 

The Effectiveness of Play Therapy

There are several stages of play therapy, and there are criteria the therapist must help the child meet for the effectiveness of the therapy to work for the child. The therapist must perform the processes in order to see results for the child and make progress. According to Psychiatry MMC, there are eleven processes that fit under three main groupings:

  • Cognitive Domain
      • Schema transformation: The process of reforming a child’s maladaptive belief or value into a functionally adaptive belief or value. 
      • Symbolic exchange: The problematic value is fully formed and recognized through words or emotions. 
      • Insight: Careful reconstruction of the meaning of the child’s experience.
      • Skill Development: The child learns more proactive cognitive means to handle future difficulties. 
  • Affective Domain
      • Abreaction: The release of previous or oppressed emotions. 
      • Emotional experiencing: Experiencing the emotions allows for more mastery and integration of the child’s emotions into the affective self. 
      • Affective education: The child can catalog their emotions with words and affirmations.
      • Emotional regulation: The development of new skills and coping strategies in order to end painful cycles or harmful behaviors.
  • Interpersonal Domain
    • Support and validation: The child receives support and validation from the therapist as they experience these enlightening emotions. 
    • Corrective relationship: The therapist must continue to help restructure the child’s thinking and processes and give them the language and skills needed to break old habits.
    • Supportive scaffolding: The therapist must create a supportive environment to continue improvement and structuring of the future sessions. 

Play Therapy’s Impact on the Child

The therapist continues to work with the parents and the child to help improve their thinking and give them the language and skills to deal with future problems. Play therapy does wonders for children with trauma, children who do not know how to process what they have experienced, children with behavioral or mental health issues, etc. Play therapy seems minimal at first, but with patience and love, play therapy can help a child through their pain to grow into a healthy adult. 

Play therapy is extremely beneficial for children. Some children experience therapy a little too late for play therapy, and that’s okay. Talk therapy, individual therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectic behavioral therapy, and many others are also beneficial to teens and young adults. Young adults who have lots of unprocessed trauma from childhood have a higher risk for mental health issues and addiction than those who’ve sought out therapy. If you have a young adult in your life who struggles with addiction or mental health issues, call us. At RECO Intensive, we understand that unresolved issues from childhood may haunt a person well into adulthood. Play therapy is great for giving kids the tools to deal with trauma, allowing them to heal and develop those skills. Our professional staff and experienced alumni will help create a plan that is specifically catered to your loved one’s needs, allowing for healing and a brighter future ahead. Call RECO Intensive today at (561) 464-6533

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