Play Therapy


What is play therapy and how can my child benefit?

Playing is a child’s natural way of rehearsing for life. Through play, children grow, learn, explore, and develop. They seek fun and interactive ways of tackling life’s emotional, social, physical, and mental challenges. Incorporating play into therapy is simply taking what children already do naturally and putting it into a therapeutic setting. Just as an adult would come to talk about their feelings, thoughts and behaviors, children express these aspects through their play. Even though most children are verbal when they come to therapy, most are not able to articulate their emotions and thoughts in ways adults and adolescents can. They simply are not developmentally ready. Play therapy is the powerful technique used to help children get what they need out of their therapeutic experience. APT defines play therapy as “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.”


Play therapy helps children:

– Become more responsible for behaviors and develop more successful strategies.
– Develop new and creative solutions to problems.
– Develop respect and acceptance of self and others.
– Learn to experience and express emotion.
– Cultivate empathy and respect for thoughts and feelings of others.
– Learn new social skills and relational skills with family.
– Develop self-efficacy and thus a better assuredness about their abilities.


How is play therapy different from the play my child does at home?

Play therapy differs from regular play in that the therapist helps children to address
and resolve their own problems. Play therapy builds on the natural way that children learn about themselves and their relationships in the world around them (Axline, 1947; Carmichael, 2006; Landreth, 2002). Play therapy provides children with a safe psychological distance from their problems and allows expression of thoughts.


How can parents be involved?

Parents and families play an important role in the healing process. Children heal faster the more their parents and families can be involved. At a minimum, the therapist will want to communicate regularly with the child’s caretakers to develop a plan for resolving problems as they are identified and to monitor the progress of the treatment. Other options might include involving the parents or caretakers directly in the treatment by modifying how they interact with the child at home or modifying interactions between siblings.


How long does play therapy last?

Length of time in therapy varies from child to child based on symptoms, current situation, changes in environmental support, and child’s personality. The research shows that a minimum of 20 sessions is recommended, with most long term changes occurring at closer to 40 sessions. Some children may show significant change and progress before 20 sessions. Progress in therapy will be discussed with parents on a regular basis, as clinically necessary.


Who can practice play therapy?

The practice of play therapy requires extensive specialized education, training, and experience. A play therapist is a licensed mental health professional who has earned a Master’s or Doctorate degree in a mental health field with considerable general clinical experience and supervision. With advanced, specialized training, experience, and supervision, mental health professionals may also earn the Registered Play Therapist (RPT) or Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor (RPT-S) credentials conferred by the Association for Play Therapy (APT).” From the Association for Play Therapy website


*All content adapted from the Association for Play Therapy. For more information, please visit their website at or contact our office at (352)332-6131