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What is Play Therapy?

Play therapy, or PT, is a specific form of therapeutic approach in the mental health field. Possibly one of the most rewarding approaches, this type of therapy involves actual playtime with the client. Interested in learning more about this exciting line of therapy work? Read on as we cover the basics of PT today.

Therapeutic Play: The Basics

What exactly is PT or therapeutic play? The official association, Association for Play Therapy,  devoted to this type of therapy answers this question as clearly as any could.

“Child play therapy is a way of being with the child that honors their unique developmental level and looks for ways of helping in the ‘language’ of the child – play. Licensed mental health professionals therapeutically use play to help their clients, most often children ages three to 12 years, to better express themselves and resolve their problems.”

In other words, with PT, play is used in session with the client as opposed to discussion or some other technique. As aforementioned, this play-based technique is applied to children in most cases. These children usually fall into one of the following categories: sufferer of behavioral problems or disorders, or sufferer of a developmental delay.

There is, however, a third circumstance in which a client may be treated with the therapeutic play method. Here, certain situations of general trauma or the sometimes difficult, initial task of getting the client comfortable with a new therapist may call for some temporary play approach.

How’s it Done?

We’ve covered the basics now on who, when, and why with regard to this fun-centered therapy method. Now let’s take a look at how the therapeutic play process is carried out. In fact, the parameters here can be quite diverse, but can be summed up into either directive approach or non-directive approach.

Non-Directive Approach

The non-directive play approach is referred to professionally by several names – psychodynamic therapy, unstructured play, and a few others. Despite name differences, this type of play approach sees the client directing their own play with very little direction from the therapist. The only direction here in fact may be that of calming help if emotions become high at any point. The therapist plays more of an observer role.

Directive Approach

In the directive approach, a different angle is taken. Here, the therapist administers more direction in the type of play used and for how long. This approach provides more keen targeting of trouble areas during the play time. The downside here however is that the therapist must direct carefully so as to not make the client feel rushed or uncomfortable with the process. This approach sees the therapist in an active participant’s role.

Common Play Media

Therapeutic play methods vary to an extent, but even more diverse is the selection of toys and games that can be used in this kind of therapy. We can’t quite cover them all, but here are some of the key tools of the trade:

  • Stuffed Animals
  • Puppets
  • Putty, and Sculpting Clay
  • Painting Setups
  • Drawing and Coloring Setups
  • Sandbox or Waterbox
  • Board Games
  • Charades
  • Cards
  • Pretend Time
  • And many others

Related Resource: Top 20 Best Applied Behavior Analysis Programs 2015

In conclusion, today’s therapeutic play methods offer some of the most rewarding and uniquely beneficial therapy opportunities there are for children and many others as well. Never before has the concept of play been so beneficial to the medical world.