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Play Therapy Approaches : An Overview


Play Therapy

Play therapy is a structured, theoretically based approach to therapy that builds on the normal communicative and learning processes of children (Carmichael, 2006; Landreth, 2002). According to the British Association of Play Therapists (BAPT), play therapy help children to sort their complicated feelings through “use of play to communicate at their own level and at their own pace, without feeling interrogated or threatened” (British Association of Play Therapists).

Schaefer and Drewes (2014) identified 20 core therapeutic powers of play, which are divided into four major functions which are promoted in play therapy sessions: establish and facilitate communication; increase personal strengths; enhance social relationships; fostering of emotional wellness. Play therapy itself acts as the transformational medium, which offers a new perspective on the self-perception and the environment of the child (Seymour, 2015).

Major Approaches to Play Therapy

Sandtray/Sandplay therapy

Sand tray therapy is a form of expressive therapy that is sometimes referred to as sandplay therapy (although sandplay does have a different approach) or the World Technique. It was developed by Margaret Lowenfeld, Dora Kalff, Goesta Harding, Charlotte Buhler, Hedda Bolgar, Lisolotte Fischer, and Ruth Bowyer.

Sand tray therapy allows a person to construct their own microcosm using miniature toys and colored sand. The scene created acts as a reflection of the person’s own life and allows them the opportunity to resolve conflicts, remove obstacles, and gain acceptance of self.

Sandplay therapy bases on the basic principle that the human psyche possesses the natural tendency to heal itself. In sandplay therapy the child is provided with a tray filled with sand sized 57x72x7 centimeters, so both the child and the therapist can overlook the whole tray without moving their heads. The therapist also provides a variety of miniature figures, which include human beings, buildings, animals, vehicles, fences, plants, landscapes, natural objects, fantastic creatures, symbols, and more (Roesler, 2019). In the first phase of a sandplay therapy session, the child creates the picture with all the provided figures. If the child wants to, he may share a story or his idea about the picture in the second phase. In the classical sandplay therapy approach, the third phase is the phase where the therapists interpret the sand tray together with the child's associations. It is an unanswered question under sandplay therapists if sand trays should be interpreted, but if the therapist does it, her/she has to be very cautious with the interpretation. The underlying assumption of sandplay therapy is that the sand tray reflects the inner world of the child and gives him or her space for its expression (Roesler, 2019; Sandplay Therapists of America, 2020).

Metaphors and Stories in Play Therapy.

Metaphors and stories can be used in and about any theoretical orientation, including those described above, and serve to discover, change concepts, create meaning, teach or model, change schemata, see changes, use the child's language and themes, change behavior, access unconscious processes, strengthen relationships, trigger aha-moments, reduce defenses and resistance, and many other purposes. When children are exposed to stories that reflect their struggles, even unconscious ones, they engage in identification and projection. They identify with the needs, wishes, and frustrations of the character most similar to them.

The stories must be carefully selected by the play therapist in a way that is appropriate to the 10 age and situation of the child (Pernicano, 2016). Situations in which storytelling can be applied appropriately is explained in the following:

• The therapist selects a story that deals with a metaphor that was brought into therapy by the child,

• The therapist implements a metaphor that reflects the child's problems and tells or reads out a story in which it occurs,

• The therapist selects a story for diagnostic clarification purposes,

• Introduce a story to challenge a denial or blind spot in the child gently,

• A story is chosen to teach a specific technique, such as problem-solving strategies, mood management, or cognitive coping, which is demonstrated in the story (Pernicano, 2016).

Expressive Arts in Play Therapy

Expressive arts therapies are defined as the use of art, music, drama, dance/movement, poetry/creative writing, bibliotherapy, play, and sandplay within the context of psychotherapy, counseling, rehabilitation, or medicine. Additionally, expressive therapies are sometimes referred to as “integrative” when various arts are purposively used in combination in treatment. The use of expressive arts in play therapy is typically a non-directive approach and expands the therapeutic space. The aspect of "creating" something adds a depth of self-exploration to play therapy.

In expressive art, materials of all kinds can be used; in general, the therapist provides artistic materials, objects such as paper and pens, felt or fabrics that offer different textures and tactile sensations. Context is seen as an essential factor, and depending on the therapeutic situation, the therapist may not be able to provide a wide range of materials. In some cultural contexts, natural objects are often used to create and exchange ideas. Expressive arts provide a metaphorical and symbolic understanding of what is going on in the child (Gentleman Byers, 2016)

Using Drama in Play Therapy.

Pretend play is seen as crucial for child development, especially for the ability to understand and communicate social experiences. The degree to which children develop the ability to engage in dramatic pretend play contributes to their later interpersonal relationships, social creativity, the experience of positive emotions and resilience when faced with challenges.

Drama Therapy has been used to help children with a wide variety of problems. Some of these include:

  • Children having problems with relationships, or who need to practice social skills
  • Children on the autism spectrum
  • Children who are acting out behaviorally
  • Children who are recovering from a serious injury or illness
  • Children who have experienced trauma or loss

The therapist may use puppets or involve the whole family and symbolic characters of any kind, such as monsters, superheroes, Mrs/Mr. Opposite or many others (L. Harvey, 1999; S. Harvey, 2016)

Board Games in Play Therapy.

The use of board games can be initiated by the child or the therapist. When the therapist selects the board game, he/she will elicit something specific from the interaction. When the child picks the board game, this is usually based on a structured assessment to learn more about the child and his/her reasons for choosing a particular game. This play therapy technique is more targeted and has a greater sense of seriousness. In board games, children learn to communicate verbally and non-verbally, learn to know each other, share, be patient, take turns, and have fun while connecting with others. Key aspects assessed and supported in board game therapy are the degree of mastery, the ability to tolerate frustration, strategic skills, the ability regarding social interactions, competitiveness, the degree of norm compliance, and the general development of the children (Stone, 2016)

Play therapy is creative counseling method that helps to optimizes child’s ability to express, explore and resolve troubling phases like thoughts, feeling, experiences in positive manner. It is the method respecting child hood and plays strong in developing all phases of childhood in strong base.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2021 Anu

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