Low self-esteem. Grieving a loss in the family. Childhood sexual abuse. Divorce, eating disorders, depression or just plain old bad behavior. There are 1,001 reasons why a child might benefit from therapy. But why is play therapy the chosen therapeutic technique when it comes to child counseling? What are the pros and cons of play therapy?
Play therapy consists of—in it’s most basic form—a child playing with a variety of specialized toys while a therapist interacts with him or her. The therapist will plant messages and use a calculated strategy to encourage the child to divulge his or her feelings. That being said, play therapy isn’t so much a therapeutic discipline in and of itself. Rather, play is used as a vehicle through which to make children feel comfortable and safe enough to open up about life’s problems.
Comfortable and safe. These are the cornerstones of any productive patient-therapist relationship. Play is an activity that children are familiar with, an activity during which they feel comfortable and safe. Children feel in control while playing, and the therapeutic techniques used in play therapy make children feel understood and respected. In traditional talk therapy, however, children lack the emotional maturity to express their feelings, making it difficult to instill feelings of comfort and safety.
advantages of play therapy
Conducted in a relaxing, non-clinical environment that children are familiar with.
Play is a natural way for children to regulate their emotions.
Children develop stronger bonds with their therapist.
Play therapy is most effective when the source of a child’s distress is unknown; play therapy draws out hidden fears and concerns simply through the way a child plays.
disadvantages of play therapy
It is an established fact that play is naturally therapeutic for children, however studies about the the effectiveness of play therapy show mixed results.
Play therapy is largely dependent on the therapist’s skills. A play therapist who takes the time to thoroughly learn about the child’s history, who pays deep attention to the child’s personality and takes the time to find the most productive communication pathway for each unique child, can work wonders with play therapy. Finding the right therapist for your child is key. Check out this article for advice about what to look for in a child counselor.
Play therapy can be a long, drawn-out process.
play therapy techniques at home
Because the nature of play is non-clinical at its core, employing play therapy techniques at home is an easy way to support therapeutic efforts. Here is some advice from our counseling center’s play therapists about what you can do at home to get your child talking:
Have your child put together a puppet show or play about whatever challenges they are facing in life. This will encourage your child to think of creative ways for the “main character” to overcome his or her fears. If your child is struggling with the solution aspect of this activity, ask them questions to subtly guide them towards an answer. By helping a puppet of fictional character overcome fear, your child will develop self-confidence in his or her own ability to manage personal stress.
Selectively choose a book in which the storyline mimics a real-life challenge your child is experiencing. After you’ve finished reading, ask your child questions about the story: have you ever felt the way that the main character in this story felt? What did you like about the way the main character solved his problem?
When you help our child, it reassures them that you are there to support and care for them. This is, of course, invaluable to a child’s sense of security in the world. However, many behavioral issues stem from a lack of self-confidence. When your child does things independently—cutting something with scissors, picking out an outfit for school, pouring a glass of water, portioning out the dog’s food, etc.—it builds self-esteem and self-confidence.
It’s important to remember that your child should only work with a certified play therapist—at home techniques are a great way to support the efforts of a licensed counselor but should never replace professional counseling altogether.
contact creative counseling center
If you are interested in learning more about the pros and cons of play therapy and how it might help your child, please contact us via the brief form below. Creative Counseling Center specializes in play therapy and our team includes some of the best play therapists in Denver. We are happy to offer a free consultation to new patients, where you can speak with a skilled play therapist, ask questions, get answers, and take the first steps of your therapeutic journey.