“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” – Plato
Some issues that clients bring to the counseling office can be addressed via talk therapy, while others respond more adroitly to non-verbal interactions. For those in the younger set, being able to express themselves beyond words is an essential aspect of healing. Play Therapy is best suited for those ranging in age from 3-16 years old.
The Association for Play Therapy (APT) defines play therapy as “the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.”
There are many indications for the need to engage in this modality.
Acting out behaviors, including harm to self or others, withdrawal and isolation.
According to the British Association of Play Therapists, the modality was developed by Anna Freud, Margaret Lowenfeld and Melanie Klein, who witnessed the benefits of this alternative to psychoanalysis. These researcher/clinicians were able to enter a child’s rich inner world by observing their interactions with objects related to play. The methods are varied, but the intention is the same: to elicit healthy emotional responses in a safe environment, create a sense of positive regard from therapist to client and allow for healing and resolution of symptoms that may range from mildly distressing to devastatingly damaging.
In a play therapist’s office, one might find a dollhouse to simulate the home in which the child lives, figurines, dolls and puppets to represent the family system, games that evoke feelings, as well as art supplies with which the child may express where verbalization falls short. The goal isn’t specifically to get the client to use words, but rather for the therapist to glean meaning from the actions the child takes when engaging in the treatment. Structure is put into place if safety is involved, such as the therapist re-directing the child if he or she is attempting to break a toy or injure himself or herself, or the therapist with the object. It is also appropriate for the therapist to remind the client that the toys need to remain in the room, rather than come home with the child, so that it will be there for others to share and for the next time he or she comes back.
Various Forms of Play Therapy
David Levy, created a therapeutic approach called “release therapy” in 1938. This was a structured approach that encouraged a child who had experienced a trauma, such as witnessing abuse of losing a parent an early age to engage in free play. The therapist then gradually brought on board, materials related to the traumatic event, allowing the child to safely re-experience the event and release any unresolved feelings.
Joseph Soloman developed an approach called “active play” to assist children who displayed impulsive behaviors. The approach was based on his contention that expressing emotions such as fear and anger in play would result in more socially acceptable behavior in the child’s daily life.