What is Play Therapy?

“Play therapy is a structured, theoretically based approach to therapy that builds on the normal communicative and learning processes of children” (Carmichael, 2006; Landreth, 2002; O’Connor & Schaefer, 1983) – From the Association for Play Therapy.

So in summary, play therapy is therapy that utilizes children’s natural mode of communication:  PLAY.  Through the use of carefully selected materials and techniques with a specially trained practitioner, Play Therapy has been found to be very effective for children struggling in many types of areas…issues arising from normal development and life stages, depression, grief from the loss of loved ones or life changing events (i.e. moving), divorce, bullying, abuse and other types of trauma…to name a few of the things that occur in the lives of children as well as adults.

Play is very important in the lives of children, and plays a key role in child development.  All play has purpose; it is how children process normal life events, and how they rehearse for life.  Their play changes as they grow developmentally, and in early childhood, play becomes representational and symbolic.  A box may be a spaceship and a mound of dirt a castle; a world can be built in the sand.  A trained therapist uses a variety of formats and techniques within a safe, predictable environment and enters the child’s world.  Kids do not have the capacity to verbalize complex issues so Play Therapy is powerful in helping kids heal from the pain of every day life or circumstances beyond their control.  Play is their language, and toys become their words.

A variety of formats and techniques are used in play therapy, among them being non-directive “free” play, expressive work through art and creativity, carefully directive activities using games and other focused items, Sandtray Therapy, and work with families through a special form of play therapy.  Play therapy facilitates the development of skills such as frustration tolerance, self-control, and personal responsibility for increased likelihood of success in the outside world.  Is it only effective with children? No.  Although Play therapy has primarily been developed for working with children and adolescents, it has been found to be beneficial for adults as well.

Want more information?  For more information on Play Therapy, check out the national  Association for Play Therapy web page devoted to explaining the highly effective technique of Play Therapy.

Also, find more information about Play Therapy from Jason Zoellers, owner/founder of Lumina Child and Family Counseling. “What is Play Therapy?”


Find a very informative video below from Dr. Amy Wickstrom, RPT-S.