What is Play Therapy?
Play Therapy is an effective form of therapy for children with a wide range of emotional and behavioural difficulties including depression, anxiety, aggression and issues relating to difficult life experiences such as abuse, bereavement and loss, family breakdown / separation, domestic violence and trauma.
Children use play as a form of communication in everyday life. In Play Therapy children use play to express themselves. Children enter into a dynamic relationship with the play therapist, which enables them to express, explore and make sense of their difficult and painful life experiences.
Play Therapy can help children develop confidence and positive self-esteem. It can help them find healthier ways of communicating and can promote resilience and coping. As the child in Play Therapy is helped to gain control over difficult feelings, memories and reactions, and learns to deal with them more effectively within the playroom, he/she generally transfers these newly developed skills to his everyday life.
In individual play therapy the therapist’s responsibility is with the child and helping the carers to understand the child’s emotional needs and fears, but not to meet the family’s therapeutic needs as a whole.
Theoretical Introduction to Play Therapy:
Play therapy has its roots in Child Psychotherapy; however the more specific theoretical elements have emerged from the Humanistic Psychology tradition. Carl Rogers (1951, 1955) developed Person Centred Therapy in which the relationship between the therapist and client is based upon genuineness, acceptance and trust. Axline (1969, 1971) influenced by this approach, utilised its theoretical foundations to devise a clear and succinct Play Therapy method, she called -“Non-Directive Play Therapy”. It has a firm foundation in child developmental principles including;
- Piaget’s framework of adaptation and mental schemas.
- Attachment theory and internal working models.
- Erikson’s emotional developmental perspective.
Often emotionally damaged children need intensive corrective experiences, such as that provided by Play Therapy. It provides a permissive, enhanced play environment in which the child is free from environmental constraints, to re-enact emotionally damaging experiences on a symbolic level.
The child directs the pace and content of the sessions. The therapist focuses on the child’s feelings and sets certain therapeutic limits. The child’s thoughts and feelings are made conscious and given symbolic representation. Through increased symbolic assimilation the child’s internal structures become more mobile and result in changes in the child’s behaviour and mental organisation.
Structure of Play Therapy:
- Referral received from social work/psychiatry/school.
- Referral meeting and discussion with appropriate professionals involved with the child.
- Meeting with the child’s parents/carer(s).
- Meeting with the child, in the family home (if possible).
- Play Therapy sessions: 50-minute regular weekly sessions.
- Regular review sessions with parent/carer.
- Regular review sessions with referrer and other relevant staff (social worker/teacher, key worker).
How many sessions are recommended?
- While eight to ten sessions may be sufficient for less complex cases where the child is well supported by the primary carer, long term or on going issues may require further blocks of therapy. Complex cases may require long-term intervention (12 months or more) with regular breaks in the therapy.
Important Considerations Regarding Referrals:
- There is an assessment process undertaken prior to professional play therapists accepting referrals. Please note that validation or diagnosis is not a goal of professional play therapy.
- Some referrals may be deemed unsuitable for play therapy. For example, children in short-term accommodation and/or about to undergo a major change. Those with severe learning difficulties, children with personality disorders or childhood psychosis.
- It is important that the play therapy sessions are consistent for the child, taking place in the same space and at the same time. It is also important to note that ending play therapy sensitively is crucial. Premature or unplanned endings are always detrimental to the child.
- The referrer’s support can play a vital role in complimenting Play Therapy, consultation regarding important information such as significant changes or events in relation to the child, which take place within the duration of this therapeutic intervention.
- Ideally, the child will be accompanied to Play Therapy by a parent/carer or key worker. The adult is required to wait on the premises for the hour while the child is in therapy.