I bet if I asked my closest friends, my mom, or even my husband to describe what I “do” as a Play Therapist, they couldn’t do it, but that’s okay-I get it. Play Therapy is a commonly misunderstood therapeutic intervention.
Play Therapy is like recreational therapy or physical therapy, right?
So, you get paid to play with kids?
You use toys and games to try to get kids to talk about their problems.
As a Play Therapist I occassionally will see clients with special needs or motor development issues; however, their physical needs are met by an Occupational Therapist or Physical Therapist. My job is to help meet their emotional and social needs. I focus on all that is good with the child, not “fixing” what may, or may not, be wrong.
Play therapy rule of thumb #1:
Play Therapy is not about playing with the child either (although sometimes we do get to play). I allow the child to lead the session, choose the activity, and decide whether or not I am invited to join in, which often I’m not. The child’s play is private, self-directed, and intrinsically motivated.
Play Therapy is also not about getting kids to talk. In fact, I’ve had a session with a child before who said absolutely nothing, and did nothing, but stand still for 45 minutes. He came from a large family with a lot of older siblings and he needed to know it was okay to be silent and still. He needed to feel accepted and seen even when he wasn’t saying, or doing, anything.
Play Therapy is a form of counseling and a powerful therapeutic intervention for helping children deal with depression, divorce, anxiety, fears, self-esteeem, learning disabilities, and traumas. Children are often not consciously aware of what they’re feeling or experiencing internally and they lack the verbal skills to communicate their needs. Play is a child’s natural language and the toys are their words.
Children use play to process experiences, communicate their feelings, play out their fantasies, and explore various ways of being. The therapist’s job is to create an environment of acceptance and understanding to the child, which allows for growth and change to occur. A former professor of mine, Dr. Garry Landreth teaches therapists to communicate these for things to a child in session: I see you. I hear you. I understand. I care.
I have used Play Therapy as a means of assisting children with their emotional struggles in schools, hospitals, community centers, and grief groups and I believe in it’s power. I have used Play Therapy with children as young as three and with adults well into their forties. Play is powerful!
If you or someone you know is seeking counseling for a child or adolescent, please refer them to Chelsea Vail, MA, CCLS, LPC-Intern at The Burke Center under the supervision of Karen Burke, LPC-S, RPT-S. I can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org