How does Play Therapy work?

Play Therapy is based on building a therapeutic relationship between the therapist and the child.

To do this the therapist is responsible for creating a safe environment where the child learns to trust the therapist and begin the process of exploring and expressing themselves.

The therapist provides the space which allows the child to play as they need to with as few limits as possible but as many as necessary (for physical and emotional safety).

This allows healing to occur on many levels following our natural inner trend towards health. Play and creativity operate on impulses from outside our awareness – the unconscious.

Facts About Play Therapy

Play Therapy is a non-directive, non-judgmental way of working with children who may have emotional or behavioural difficulties.

Play Therapy is mainly used for children aged between 3 and 14 years although it can be very effective for teenagers and adults.

Play Therapy can be a one to one process between therapist and child or it can be used for a group of children with the same focus in mind.

Children may be referred to play therapy for support with some of the following

  • developing communication skills
  • building confidence and self esteem
  • emotional difficulties
  • developing social skills
  • behaviour issues
  • trauma
  • nightmares
  • bedwetting
  • bereavement and loss
  • divorce or separated parents
  • adoption and fostering
  • eating disorders
  • illness – child or family member

A practitioner:

– Must develop a warm and friendly relationship with the child.
– Establishes a feeling of permission in the relationship so that the child feels free to express his or her feelings completely.
– Maintains a deep respect for the child’s ability to solve his/her problems and gives the child the opportunity to do so. The responsibility to make choices and to institute change is the child’s.
– Does not hurry the therapy along. It is a gradual process and must be recognised as such by the therapist.
– Accepts the child as she or he is.
– Is alert to recognise the feelings the child is expressing and reflects these feelings back in such a manner that the child gains insight into his/her behaviour.
– Does not attempt to direct the child’s actions or conversations in any manner. The child leads the way, the therapist follows.
– Only establishes those limitations necessary to anchor the therapy to the world of reality and to make the child aware of his/her responsibility in the relationship.

As play is a child’s primary means of expression and communication, they may go from medium to medium as they wish and for as long as they need. The therapist may reflect back to the child observations of what has happened during the session if this is felt to be appropriate.

Many children are unable to communicate their experiences directly, especially in words. Play Therapy is a process which makes use of the child’s own resources including their imagination to bring about understanding and change.

To facilitate this a play therapy ‘Tool Kit’ is provided which includes the following mediums:

  • Sand
  • Art materials
  • Music
  • Story Telling
  • Visualisation
  • Puppets

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