Play therapy is founded on the assumption that a child’s play will exhibit or display any problems, consciously or unconsciously, and any developmental deficits with which the child may be dealing. The therapist develops a relationship with the child through play and the child is able to demonstrate or verbalize any occurring issues in a way that is non-threatening to the child.
In therapy, the child leads and creates the content of the play. The therapist follows the child. The child becomes increasingly able to reveal his or her emotional life through play. The therapist attempts to understand the thoughts and feelings that the child is communicating in the play session both consciously and unconsciously. As the child plays, the therapist looks for the underlying meaning of the content of the play and its relation to the presenting issues.
At that point, the therapist can help the child understand what the trouble is. A child’s behavior (problematic or not) is understood by the therapist as an attempt at meaningful communication of the child’s basic thoughts. This therapeutic awareness and understanding of the child’s communication makes a resolution of problem behaviors achievable.
Play therapy may include the participation of the child’s parents. Using the comfortable vehicle of the play area, the therapist can demonstrate the child’s issues for the parents. This exercise enables the child to feel accurately understood. In addition, parent involvement provides parents with practical methods to use in dealing with problematic behavior at home. The troublesome behavior(s) can thus be reduced in occurrence and intensity.
In addition to working with the parents, child therapists also coordinate with school teachers and counselors to help reduce behavioral issues at school and to make everyone aware of the child’s emotional issues.
Play therapy is usually conducted on a once or twice weekly basis, in 45 min. sessions. The therapist typically sees the parents bi-weekly or monthly as well. Play therapy is conducted in an appropriately equipped room. The length of treatment may range from 6 months (minor adjustment problems) to 2 years depending on a variety of factors including symptoms.