Jennifer L. Gregg
PhD, LPC, NCC, Registered Play Therapist
I am often met with confusion when I tell someone that I am a Play Therapist. At a glance, play therapy looks like simple play and having fun. However, play therapy has been found to be a practical and effective therapeutic approach in treating a variety of mental health and behavioral concerns.
Although play therapy can be a benefit for all ages, it is most notably effective with children between the ages of 3-12 years old.
Therapy must look different for a child than it does for an adult. Research reflects that children do not have the cognitive and verbal skills to talk about certain issues. For instance, imagine a child who has a meltdown every time his mother leaves. The mother has attempted to ask her child why he kicks, screams, and bites her, but the only answer is an ‘I don’t know.’ As the child participates in play therapy sessions, he begins to hide toys all around the room, reporting that they are safer when they are not out in public. As treatment progresses, it becomes evident his anxieties stem from the fears that his mother will never return. His play puts his feelings into visible action.
Play therapy can be an interactive way for children to express themselves through a language that they already know—play. Each session looks different for every child. The play therapist may intervene at various points in the play to help resolve an issue, identify alternative perspectives, or observe the child to offer more significant insights into their play’s meaning. Throughout the process, family involvement is an integral part of a child’s treatment. The level of participation is determined by the therapist and the needs of the child. Sometimes, parents may be directly involved in sessions. In other circumstances, the therapist may only communicate with guardians about treatment goals and progress within the session.
Research demonstrates the effectiveness that play therapy can have for both children and their families. Some of the most common issues addressed in play therapy are trauma, anxiety, depression, ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, aggression, family conflict, social issues, and school concerns. In play therapy, the therapist can help your child improve interpersonal skills, identify and express emotions in a healthy way, learn and practice problem-solving skills, and develop self-efficacy to enhance their confidence. In essence, play helps your child heal, grow, and flourish.
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