What Is Play Therapy?
Play therapy has grown out of a need to provide intervention to children with problem behaviors. Traditional therapies have required clients to be verbal participants in their own therapy. Because of the language development of children, however, traditional therapies, which require verbalizations of emotions and events, have had limited application. The child’s lack of ability in using verbal symbols or words has greatly limited the development of traditional therapies with children. Children are believed to conceptualize the world in which they live at a much higher level than their verbal development. Thus the use of tangible manipulatives appeared to be the optimal method to help children communicate with the therapist those feelings, events, and ideations that are beyond their language development.
Play therapy has grown beyond the simple use of toys for communication in a playroom to include most of the expressive forms of therapy: art, music, dance, drama, movement, poetry, and storytelling. Although the mainstay of therapy is still the playroom with its selection of symbolic toys, the play therapist has greatly expanded the medium for nonverbal and verbal expression.
Play therapy has gone beyond the one-on-one relationship between a therapist and a child. First, the client may be an infant or an elderly person. Second, the therapist may become a consultant/teacher to parents, teaching/training parents to provide the actual therapy as in filial therapy. Third, the number of children or clients seen at one time may be greater than the one-on-one relationship, as in group play therapy.
Play therapists use music, art, poetry, literature, drama, and storytelling in addition to the selection of toys, but they are not considered music therapists, art therapists, drama therapists, or dance therapists. These therapeutic specialties require specific training and certification or licensure. Although the play therapist may borrow some of the techniques, the play therapist is always a play therapist.
The term play therapy often leads professionals unfamiliar with child therapy to misunderstand what play therapy is. The emphasis is not on the word play, but rather on the term therapy. Play therapy is an intervention, based on theoretical premises and accepted as a recognized therapy. The process may appear simple on the surface, but the depth of the therapy is challenging and requires a great deal of training to do it successfully. Play therapy is very different from the play interview used by many interviewers in the realm of child sexual abuse. The play interview is intended to help the child disclose evidence leading to the conviction of an offender. Play therapy is designed to provide the child with skills and experiences that will assist him or her in overcoming behavior difficulties and/or adjustment problems or reducing trauma.
Play therapy is the use of toys to take the place of words in telling the child’s story and in expressing the child’s emotions. It assists the child in making the abstract concrete through the medium of tangible items. The Association for Play Therapy’s definition is “the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.”
© ______ 2006, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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