By Elana Benatar, LCSW-C
You may be wondering what is play therapy and whether your child would benefit. If so, this blog piece by our associate, Elana Benatar, LCSW-C, might help you decide!
What kinds of kids would benefit from play therapy?
Play therapy is generally the preferred modality of therapy for kids aged 3-11 experiencing a variety of symptoms related to anxiety, depression, grief and loss, divorce, sibling rivalry, emotional volatility, aggression, anger, and trauma. Play therapy is often appropriate when a child’s challenges are getting in the way of their functioning at home or in a school setting. Significant emotional challenges can impede a child’s development of social and academic skills, and if this is occurring – it’s time to seek help.
How is play therapy different from everyday play?
When a child plays in the presence of a therapist, the therapist is interacting and responding to them in specific ways to help children to increase awareness of their own emotions. The therapist has no agenda and no pre-existing relationship. In the therapy playroom, all feelings are accepted and welcomed. As children learn to trust in the therapist, they are able to explore deeper issues through their play without concern of what the reaction might be. The therapy hour is also established as a safe and protected space where the child will be able to do this emotional work at a predictable time each week.
I play with my kids all the time, isn’t that enough?
Having parent child playtime is a wonderful learning and bonding tool for you and your child! The parent child relationship is a sacred one, but also a complicated one. When children play with parents both individuals come in to it with a relationship that is already well established. Children may perceive or misperceive how a parent reacts to their play and alter it accordingly. Your child cares deeply about how you see them, so the play space can never be completely neutral. That being said, special time with a parent can still be quite therapeutic! Depending on the issues, a lot of play therapists will incorporate parents into the therapy and use play to strengthen relationships and find safe ways of communicating.
But wouldn’t it be better for my child to actually talk about his/her difficulties?
Our society tends to prioritize verbal modes of thinking. However, some of our most intense and primitive emotions are processed in a nonverbal part of our brains. When children play, they can access feelings and experiences that they don’t have the words for. They can create healing experiences without using any words at all. Play is not just a method for getting children to talk about their emotions – it is a way of dealing with emotions on a symbolic and experiential level that can actually be more effective than talking.
If you have concerns or questions about your child and his/her struggles, call a play therapist and find out if it might be a good fit.