The importance of Play & Play Therapy

Logo for the Australian Play Therapists Association

The importance of Play & Play Therapy

I loved playing when I was a little girl. I remember having a vivid imagination and would play out different stories and scenarios. My mother at times would often get frustrated at me because I never wanted to sit down and learn flash cards. She would comment “All Sarah wants to do is play!”. I was blamed for my non academic achievements because all I wanted to do was play.

My passion for play never stopped, it lead me towards the path of being a Play Therapist. I provide a safe space for children to play their stories or feelings, to create whatever they want with acceptance and non-judgement. As we venture into adulthood some adults forget how to play, and they don’t really understand how important play really is. Play is essential to optimal child development. It contributes to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being of children. Play enables children to have an experiential experience of conquering their fears, to practice adult roles, develop problem solving skills, either with other children or adult caregivers.

Children use play as a natural form of communication in everyday life, so it makes sense that Play Therapy is used to help children between 3-12 years of age. Children are able to explore, express feelings, thoughts and experiences through the medium of play. The goal of Play Therapy is to help children cope and express difficult emotions and develop problem solving skills to help modify behaviours all in a modality that is developmentally appropriate.

Everyone and at any age can benefit from Play Therapy. Research supports that Play Therapy can benefit children experiencing a variety of social, emotional behaviour, and learning challenges. It is also appropriate for children that have experienced trauma, stressful experiences such as death, divorce, domestic violence, relocation, hospitalization, chronic illness as well as those with attention deficit disorders or who have been diagnosed with Autism.

There are many different Play Therapy models that can be divided into two basic types: non directive and directive. The modality that I implement is a non directive approach of Child Centered Play Therapy with influences from the model of Synergetic Play Therapy. To explain that in English it involves letting the child take the lead of the play so that they are able to express freely their thoughts, feelings and experiences. Child Centered Play Therapy and Synergetic Play Therapy value the importance of the therapeutic relationship between the child and the therapist.

What is expect

It is hard to predict how long your child will need Play Therapy. Some children will need a minimum of 20 sessions, and in some circumstances due to complex trauma children may have Play Therapy for 2 years or more. Sessions are usually once a week between 30-45minutes. The sessions are on a consistent regular day and at the same time and place. This is very important for developing a trusting relationship. Unplanned missed sessions may disrupt the progress, and potentially hinder the relationship.

How parents can help

Play Therapy works better and faster if there is parent involvement. It is important for the progress of therapy that parents are consistent and encouraging about the child attending sessions regularly. Resist the urge to ask the child “Did you have a good time?”, “What did you do?”. Asking these questions will put pressure on them to comment on something they may have difficulty understanding themselves.

Asking about your child’s behaviour is not ideal, or checking if they have been “good” or “bad”. Play Therapy is not about being “good” or “bad” as it is important for the child to feel free to express ALL feelings in an uncensored way. During any therapeutic intervention, the child’s behaviour may appear to get worse before it gets better. Please communicate your concerns with your child’s Play Therapist throughout the process.

How to find a play therapist

It is important that you choose a qualified Play Therapist. A qualified Play Therapist will be a member of an accredited Play Therapy Association, such as the Australian Association for Play Therapy (APTA) Australasia Pacific Play Therapy Association, (APPTA) Play Therapy Australasia (PTAU) and The Association for Play Therapy (A4PT). Play Therapy is not a registered profession in Australia so it is quite easy for any mental health professional to label themselves as a Play Therapist.

Sarah Harwood is an international member of The Association for Play Therapy, & is a Provisional Clinical Member of the Australian Association for Play Therapy. She is currently a committee member for the Australian Association for Play Therapy.

If you would like more information on Play Therapy or how Play Therapy can help your child please do not hesitate to contact on  0490 232 773 or online.