According to Garry Landreth, Ed.D. (internationally known for his work in promoting the development of child-centered play therapy), “In the play therapy experience, toys are like the child’s words, and play is the child’s language.”
Therapeutic play builds upon this natural form of expression by offering children a safe psychological distance from their problems and enabling them to freely communicate thoughts and feelings.
More specifically, play therapy has been shown to improve outcomes in a number of areas, such as:
- Reducing behavioral issues by teaching about impulse-control and consequences
- Boosting social skills by encouraging perspective-taking, establishing/maintaining boundaries and self-advocacy
- Enhancing emotional regulation by facilitating a better understanding of thoughts and feelings and how these, in turn, influence behavior
- Reducing distress from mental health disorders, including anxiety, PTSD and ADHD
Additionally, play therapy can help parents and caregivers become better attuned to children by providing a better understanding of their behaviors, challenges and needs.
Two common approaches to play therapy are:
- Directive Play Therapy: The therapist guides the session—including specifying which toys or games will be used—with a concrete goal in mind.
- Non-Directive Play Therapy: In this less structured approach, the child chooses the toys or games and plays freely with few directives or interruptions (while the therapist observes and participates when appropriate).
Often, clinicians will employ a mix of these approaches, depending on client needs.
At Travco Behavioral Health, several clinicians employ creative arts and play interventions to help children and adolescents achieve their therapeutic goals. Tools and techniques that might be used during therapeutic play include:
- Art supplies for painting or drawing
- Play dough or kinetic sand for sensory-rich activity
- Dolls or puppets to aid in storytelling
- Therapeutic board games focused on enhancing emotional vocabulary, self-esteem, etc.
- Books to help better understand emotions, non-verbal communication, etc.
- Breathing, stretching or other movements to aid in emotional regulation
If you’re interested in learning more about therapy for children and adolescents at Travco, contact us today!