Play therapy is most often used with children ages three to 12 to help them explore what is going on in their lives and to express the feelings they are experiencing attached to those events. Play therapy takes place in a safe environment, guided by a counselor.
There are little to no rules for play during the session, so the child is free to explore as they see fit. Giving the child the freedom to direct the playtime allows the counselor to see how the child makes decisions and directs the activity. This approach also allows the counselor to help the child better express their feelings through play and learn problem-solving tools and methods.
Play therapy is primarily for children with deficits in their emotional and social skills. It promotes communication and allows them to relate their feelings and impulses positively. It is most helpful for children experiencing social problems, abuse, grief, anger, depression, and anxiety. It involves role-play, which allows the children to play out situations they are struggling within a safe and comfortable setting.
There are two primary forms of play therapy, which are directive and non-directive. In the directive play, the counselor directs the child to role-play specific situations with their toys. After observing the child play, the counselor can include themselves in the role play to demonstrate healthy ways to handle the situation presented. In the non-directed play, the counselor gives the child the mental and emotional space to work out their problems in a way that is more comfortable for them. Both forms may be used throughout a play therapy session.
Play therapists will use a variety of different toys throughout the session that is age-appropriate for the child. Useful gadgets include STEM toys for kids, as well as dolls, playsets, and games. The types of toys used will also vary based on the problems and situations the child is trying to work through. For example, STEM toys may be utilized for problem-solving skills, while dolls and household play items may be used to work through a traumatic event.
Play therapy is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, so it is essential to find a therapy group that has ample experience and knowledge of children suffering from depression and anxiety. For example, the Baltimore Therapy Group specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on helping patients learn new ways to think in situations that trigger their mental health problems.
For young children experiencing anxiety, play therapy can help them role-play situations that make them anxious. They can explore different ways to react in situations and allow their counselor to help them learn new ways to respond. They can also feel safe exploring the things that make them feel anxious. For many children, learning what triggers their anxiety will help them to address the root cause and hopefully eliminate or diminish the anxiety over time.
There are many reasons a child may experience anxiety, and trauma is often a root cause. Children that have gone through any kind of trauma can benefit from play therapy even if they are not displaying symptoms right away. It is always best to air on the side of caution when addressing your child’s mental and emotional well-being.
If you are concerned that your child is showing signs of anxiety, it is best to at least get an assessment with a counselor that specializes in play therapy. If your concerns are justified, you can continue forward with the same counselor, as opposed to having to take your child to another stranger. Counseling itself can cause anxiety, which is why it should be presented as passively as possible.