Playfully serious

The benefits of play therapy



Play therapy is a technique which utilises children’s natural means of expression, namely play, as a therapeutic method to assist them in coping with emotional stress or trauma. It has been a proven method, used with children who are: distraught due to family problems (e.g. parental divorce, sibling rivalry), nail biters, bedwetters or victims of child abuse. Play therapy has helped tremendously in addressing issues in children who are aggressive and also those who are socially underdeveloped/challenged. It has also been used on special education students, where their disability is a source of anxiety or affects their emotional well-being and self-esteem.

Practitioners of play therapy believe that this method allows the child to cope with his/her world, step by step something that cannot be done in a typical everyday environment of a child with problems. By playing with specially selected materials, and with the guidance of a professional who reacts in a specific manner, the child gets to play out hidden feelings, bringing out emotions to be faced and coped with.  In its most psycho-therapeutic form, the teacher/professional is unconditionally accepting of anything the child might say or do. In a play therapy session, a teacher never expresses shock, argues, teases, belittles or tells the child of incorrect perceptions. It is imperative that the   atmosphere is such that the child knows that it is ‘safe’ to express himself or herself in a non-punitive environment. Yet, even though the atmosphere is permissive, certain limits may be imposed such as restrictions on destroying materials or attacking the teacher.

 Note to pre-school/school teachers:  

Many psychologists, counselors and other professionals view play therapy as being within their jurisdiction only. Their view may have basis, when this technique is practiced by school counselors, social workers and psychologists for long-term, in-depth counseling needs. However, it can be modified for use by a classroom teacher for less intensive problems. If you plan to conduct pre-planned sessions, it is best to obtain the permission of administrators and parents.


What is Play Therapy?

While an adult in need of therapy can easily express emotions through verbal communication, a child might not be capable, or in some cases, may not be willing to open up to anyone. Play, for children, becomes an appropriate key to showcase their expressions. In other therapeutic treatments for children, a child may be aware of being under some kind of observation, which could lead them to feel a little inhibited. Play therapy however, offers a sense of relief to a child, for he or she knows that they get to display their innermost feelings in the most carefree way possible. In fact, most children in play therapy may not even be bothered by the fact that they might be undergoing some sort of ‘treatment’.


Main aims of play therapy

  • To help the child eliminate any emotional discomfort that may be a result of trauma, and not let it affect their normal behaviour.
  • To help build communication channels between the child and the family, making parents more perceptive towards understanding the needs of the child
  • To help children to improve their communication skills, and enable them to be confident enough to deal with their fears.

Who May Benefit From Play Therapy

  • Children who witness frequent inter-family conflicts or domestic violence
  • Children from broken families
  • Children who are victims of physical, emotional or sexual abuse
  • Children who have lost a parent, sibling or any close relation to death or by other means
  • Sick children who are suffering from a long-term illness
  • Children who are hospitalised for a long time
  • Children who have survived calamities or accidents
  • Children with attention deficit disorder
  • Children with behavioural problems
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The importance of play therapy

It is obvious that young children are not as capable as adults in expressing their emotions. Play therapy correctly brings these hidden feelings out by letting a troubled child indulge in the activity that he/she feels most comfortable with: playing. It is not unknown that playing games let the child exhibit his/her natural behaviour, as they are bound to be least inhibited while doing so.

To begin with, play therapy helps bring out the true feelings and emotions of a child, as indulging in games is deemed as non-threatening endeavours. The treated child tends to freely exhibit natural characteristics. Once coaxed into the right frame of mind, play therapy proceeds to help the child get over the trauma to be dealt with.

Play therapy also helps to make the child more friendly and outgoing, and helps him/her bond with their playing companions (who, during the course of the therapy, are usually family members). It enhances their sense of imagination, perception and creativity.

Undergoing play therapy helps a child become more aware of ‘other points of view’. As play therapies are at times group activities, they teach troubled children to expand their minds in order to acknowledge other viewpoints.

Play therapy works wonders for kids suffering from low self-esteem or those who are extremely shy. Alternatively, it helps tone down aggression levels in children too.


Theoretical Basis of Play Therapy

Play therapy emphasises the client/child in question as trustworthy. It is based upon three critical theoretical principles:

Actualisation – Humans are motivated by an inescapable desire to develop constructive and healthy capacities. Play therapy helps to actualise each person’s inner potentials, including aspects of creativity and curiosity. If carried out well, play therapy will be able to help quench that desire to become more effective and more receptive of one’s own capabilities.

The Need For Positive Regard – All people require warmth, respect and acceptance from others, especially from those closest to them. As children grow and develop, this need for positive regard transforms into a secondary, learned need for positive self-regard.

Play As Communication –Children use play as their primary medium of communication. Play is a format for transmitting children’s emotions, thoughts, values and perceptions. It is a medium that is primarily creative.

The significance of play therapy has been lauded over the past few years. As human nature would have it, there will always be a few people who will remain sceptical about it, however instrumental it has been in bringing families closer together. Ultimately, there isn’t any therapeutic method which can guarantee a cure, but it will definitely be worthwhile to try something that puts a refreshing and playful spin on more traditional or rigid methods. At the end of the day, apart from all the ‘psycho talk’ regarding the advantages of fun and games, we have to admit that playing is just plain and simple fun (and rightly so!). It’s something we always look forward to doing, irrespective of our age. It is this very reason why revamping play and making it a part of therapeutic treatments is such a laudable innovation.


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