How is Play Therapy Used?

People who have never been introduced to play therapy typically wonder how it is used. Play therapy is the process of allowing playing with toys and playacting to help therapists, psychiatrists and doctors determine what children are feeling and thinking. In some cases children may not have the ability to speak, while in other cases children may not know how or want to express themselves in any other way. While this form of therapy was once looked at as an unnecessary part of seeking help, medical professionals of all kinds have proven the process worthy of recognition.

Typical Cases

More often than not, play therapy has been used to determine whether a child has been abused. By using play as a form of therapy, children tend to open up easier about things that have happened and that they may be uncomfortable speaking about. According to Counseling Today, children of ages 2-9 have a difficult time verbalizing and communicating what they are feeling, so playing during sessions is a path generally taken by medical professionals. By allowing the child to use toys to communicate, the doctor is providing a comfortable and safe environment in which to inform the doctor about delicate matters. While communication through the use of toys to playact behaviors that they have witnessed or experienced in their own lives serves a purpose, it can also be misleading due to extenuating circumstances.

Playacting can be Misleading

Play therapy can be misused by people who do not fully understand the concept. While it is a great way to get information from the subject, it can also easily be manipulated. When therapists use this form of therapy, they let the children decide what subject and manner the toys will be used. If the therapist were to lead the playacting, the child would then be constricted to the one subject which the therapist started. For example, many children will use dolls in the way that their homes are depicted in their everyday life. If the “mommy” and “daddy” dolls are behaving nicely and commending their “children” on behaviors, one would typically conclude that the child sees that in his own home. On the other side, if a child portrays the “mommy” and “daddy” doll being mean to each other, it is a logical conclusion that the child has seen that. With that being said, if a therapist held a “mommy” and “daddy” doll together and made them start fighting, the child would likely continue the fighting because the play was already led down a specific route. Because this method of therapy can be detrimental in learning what a child is thinking and going through, it should only be used by a trained professional.

While play therapy has long been proven effective, it has taken a long time for the medical field to recognize it as a valuable tool. The process has been used to treat emotional disorders and trauma, as well as determining abuse or disorders in children, but it can also be abused and children can be misled. In order to properly determine how play therapy is used, one needs to remember that it is a tool not a treatment, and that children should be given freedom to lead the play in the direction that they wish.

Related Resource: How is Art Therapy Used?

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