Play therapy

What is play therapy?

Play therapy is based on Carl Rogers’ person centred therapy, later developed by Virginia Axline for working therapeutically with children. It also has its grounds in psychodynamic, Gestalt, and attachment theory.

Central to play therapy is the fact that play is the natural language of children. It is their way of expressing and communicating experiences, desires, thoughts and emotions. Whereas some adults may go to therapy to talk about their problems, children do not always understand or have the words to express that which they feel and is troubling them. They create and play out what is inside them.

Play therapy provides a free and protected space where child and therapist meet. The child is accepted unconditionally, without judgement or interpretation. He has the opportunity to explore at his* own pace and at his own level those issues from the past or present, conscious or unconscious that are affecting his life in the here and now. Play therapy enables a child to access inner resources and resilience and through the therapeutic relationship allows growth and change to happen.
*(Masculine form is used to speak about the child.)

Who can it help?

Play therapy can be helpful for children of all ages and for a wide variety of reasons. With:

Emotional difficulties, for example children who often feel down-hearted, sad, worried, stressed, or anxious, have low confidence, a negative self-image, have difficulties managing or expressing feelings

Behavioural difficulties, for example children who are often overactive, fidgety, very impulsive, or withdrawn, have difficulty concentrating, show rebellious or inappropriate behaviour

Social difficulties, for example children who find it difficult to make and maintain friendships, who are bullies or get bullied, have difficult relationships with family members or others close to them

Psychosomatic problems, for example children who often have physical aches or pains without a clear cause, sleep problems and/or nightmares, issues with bedwetting

Processing of traumatic or extreme events that have a negative impact on the wellbeing of a child, such as after loss, separation, changes in living- and family circumstances, accidents, experiences involving violence, abuse or illness

How can it help?

Play therapy enables a child to:

Explore painful and confusing experiences and emotions in a safe way

Learn how to express feelings in constructive ways

Accept responsibility

Find ways of dealing with situations more appropriately

Build better relationships

Find inner resources and self confidence
‘It is in playing and only in playing that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.’
―― D. Winnicott ――