A Simple Explanation of Play Therapy

I meet with a lot of parents who are bringing their child for play therapy, either because they were referred by another child professional, or they just figured they would give it a shot to help them with their child’s behavior. However, most do not really grasp what play therapy means or what a play therapist does with the child. So, what does a play  therapist do during a session?

My favorite explanation is to use the image of adult therapy. I call it the “Couch Explanation.”

When you think of an adult getting counseling, you think of someone sitting on a couch, talking to the therapist while they listen to your problems. The counselor may point out patterns they notice in your life, help you reframe certain ideas, reflect your feelings, and even teach you some therapeutic techniques. You would feel you have a a safe place to express yourself, talk about intimate details of your life, and process events that have happened, or are happening, in your life.

When a child comes to play therapy, it is very much the same. Sometimes the child uses words and other times they use play or art to communicate and express thoughts and emotion. Similar to working with adults, the play therapist will reflect the child’s feelings, point out patterns, likes, and dislikes they notice. They may also teach the child techniques to help them identify feelings, cope with their anger, or socialize at school. And most importantly, the play room is set up to be a safe place for the child to express themselves and process various things in their life. For example, a child struggling because their parents divorced and now they are living in a new house and going to a new school will definitely need to process all that has happened in order to move on.

As a Registered Play Therapist, I really believe in the power of play therapy. I have witnessed the benefits and encourage parents to seek out a play therapist if their child is struggling.

Please visit the Association for Play Therapy website for more information on play therapy and Registered Play Therapists!

If you have experience with this as a parent or professional, I would love to hear other explanations you have found helpful!

You may also like: Bringing Back Old Fashioned Play!

Author: Kim Peterson, MA, LPC-S, RPT

Kim is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Clinical Supervisor, and Registered Play Therapist in Dallas, Texas.

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