Play therapy is used in treatment in order to help children communicate their inner thoughts, experiences, and desires through the use of play. Typical objects used in play therapy include: use of sand tray, toys, blocks/Legos, feeling cards, conversation dice/cards, dolls, puppets, etc. Therapists may also use coloring/drawing/writing activities to help children elicit internalized feelings, fears, concerns, and keep track of the coping skills they have been obtaining during the course of treatment.
“The play therapy process can be viewed as a relationship between the therapist and the child in which the child utilizes play to explore his or her personal world and also to make contact with the therapist in a way that is safe for the child. Play therapy provides an opportunity for children to live out, during play, experiences and associated feelings. This process allows the therapist to experience, in a personal and interactive way, the inner dimensions of the child’s world. This therapeutic relationship is what provides dynamic growth and healing for the child.” (Landreth & Bratton, 2001).
Each play therapist may have a different play therapy training. Those with training in Sandplay Therapy use a Sand Tray filled with therapeutic sand in which the client will choose various items to place in the sand tray. Play therapists may provide a direction for the activity such as “choose items to place in the sand tray that you would like to use in order to represent various individuals in your life”, or “now add items you feel you need in order to feel safe”. Other times, the play therapist may not give any directive at all in an effort to help the client reveal unconscious thoughts, feelings, and interpretations of events.
Play Therapy is also an important type of therapeutic intervention to use in all or some sessions as a way of providing a client with a non-verbal means of expression. This is especially helpful for very young children, children and adults who have experienced trauma (since the verbal part of the brain shuts down during a trauma), as well as those clients who are hard to engage in the therapeutic process.