A Caregiver’s Guide to Play Therapy

Welcome to Thriveworks!

We are so happy you chose us and are looking forward to getting to know you and your child. The therapist that your child is meeting with is one of our Play Therapy specialists.

Play Therapy is a unique form of therapy that deserves some extra attention and explanation. There are unique and important differences between Play Therapy and traditional talk therapy that are described here so that you know what to expect and understand how Play Therapy can help your child.

Why Play Therapy?

“For children, toys are their words and Play is their language.” -Garry L. Landreth, an internationally renowned Play Therapist (Landreth, 2012)

If your child answers “I don’t know” when you ask them what is wrong or how they are feeling, you are not alone. Many caregivers bring their children to therapy because they are worried about them and unable to figure out why they are hurting and how to help them.

Unlike adults, children are not always able to express themselves using words. There are many reasons your child may not express themselves verbally. Many children may not have the vocabulary to express themselves with words because they are too young and/or not at the developmental stage to be able to translate a feeling into a word. Other children worry about saying the “wrong thing” or upsetting adults and caregivers with their honest thoughts and feelings. Just like many adults, children may not even be aware of what is truly bothering them and need help processing the “why” behind their feelings.

This is where Play Therapy comes in. Playing alongside one of our Play Therapists gives your child the opportunity to process their thoughts, feelings, and experiences using the language of play. Our Play Therapists speak this language and are able to understand what your child cannot express with words. Furthermore, your child’s Play Therapist is trained to be able to create experiences in the Play Room that will help your child resolve what is bothering them.

Will Playing Really Help My Child?

Yes! – Research has consistently shown the efficacy of Play Therapy (Ray and McCullough, 2015). In addition to the benefits already mentioned, Play Therapy also provides:

  • Stress Relief: Play relieves stress and is a tool that your child can easily access to regulate their emotions.
  • Connection to Others and Social Skills: Play facilitates connection to others. While engaging in play with their therapist, your child is learning and practicing social skills and how to be in a relationship with another person.
  • Emotional Expression and A Way to Process Trauma: Children process traumatic events using play. For example: Following 9/11 a group of children who had witnessed the tragedy were placed in a secure, child-friendly environment until clinicians could arrive to help them process the event. The adults took the planes out of the room because they were concerned this would re-traumatize the children. However, when the clinicians arrived they were not surprised to see many of the children pretending their hands were planes crashing into things. Children need the opportunity to play out trauma in order to make sense of it and heal from it.
  • Problem Solving and Self Efficacy: Through play, children are empowered to problem solve. In the play room there are no “rights and wrongs” – they are free to make mistakes and learn from them. Children gain self-confidence when they are able to figure out a solution to a problem on their own.
  • Cultivation of Empathy and Respect for Others: Your child’s Play Therapist may use toys to help teach perspective taking, communication, and respect for others’ feelings and thoughts. Through role play, your child might “try on” how it feels to be Mom, a teacher, or even the President! Using their imagination, children can take an outsider’s perspective and understand that other people see the world differently than they do.

What Happens During a Play Therapy Session? Will I Know What Goes On In My Child’s Session?

At Thriveworks we have a variety of toys available for Play Sessions –  including dolls, balls, stuffed animals, art supplies, Play Doh/putty, board games, and a sand tray with a large array of figurines that they can use to create their own world.

Sometimes Play Therapy is non-directive, meaning the therapist allows the child to pick the toys and then reflects the client’s behaviors and feelings back to them. Other times the therapist will be more directive and pick the game or toy that will be used with the intention of addressing a specific treatment objective or broaching a particular topic. More often than not, a combination of both non-directive and directive Play Therapy is used.

Your child may or may not share with you what happens during a Play Therapy session. Your child’s therapist will share with you the general themes of your child’s play, unless the child grants permission to share more details with you. Children still have the right to confidentiality, even as minors. (This does, of course, exclude any information shared by your child that presents a safety risk and is mandated to be reported.)

How can I help my child during the Play Therapy process?

(adapted from “What is Play Therapy?” by Diane Doyle, 2015)

  • Please make every effort for your child to attend every Play Therapy appointment.
  • Please avoid asking your child to tell you the details of their session. They may not be capable of putting their play into words. We suggest asking your child open-ended, broad questions such as “How was your session today?” rather than “What did you talk about in therapy today?”
  • Please do not worry about your child behaving well or tell them to be “good” in their sessions. Play Therapy is a place where “bad” feelings can be let out and a child can be themselves completely and fully.
  • It is best not to suggest what your child should talk about or to prompt them to share their feelings or even talk at all during the session. (Play therapy does not require talking.) If you have updates for your child’s Thriveworks therapist or issues you would like them to discuss with your child, please feel free to contact them before session.
  • Be aware that your child’s behavior could get worse before it gets better. Difficult feelings and experiences often surface during the course of Play Therapy. If you have concerns or questions along the way, please contact your child’s Thriveworks therapist for practical strategies to help at home and in between sessions.

References

Landreth, G. L. (2012). Play therapy: The art of relationship (3rd ed.). Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

Ray, D. C, & McCullough, R. (2015; revised 2016). Evidence-based practice statement: Play therapy (Research report). Retrieved from Association for Play Therapy

If you have any questions or concerns about Play Therapy, please feel free to ask your Thriveworks Play Therapist.

Now, let’s PLAY!

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