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Play Therapy: Psychology Behind


Play is the child’s natural medium for self-experience.” Virginia Axline (1989), founder of child-centred play therapy

Play is children’s universal behavior and innate mode of self-expression. All children irrespective of their life, weather it is going quite smoothly or experiencing certain complexities through the entire period of their development adopt play as a spontaneous way to express their emotions and thoughts just like adults use language.

Play in its different forms is the most enjoyed and spontaneous activity of children, which can take place in all places and at all times (Ahuja & Saha, 2016). Through play, children express what they are unable to communicate, and it serves the development of physical, social, cognitive, and emotional skills and functions (Ahuja & Saha, 2016; Fearn & Howard, 2012; Nijhof et al., 2018).

Play therapy refers to a method of psychotherapy with children in which a therapist uses a child's fantasies and the symbolic meanings of his or her play as a medium for understanding and communication with the child.

The American Association of Play Therapy defines play therapy as "the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development" (Association for Play Therapy, n.p., 2020).

Use of Play as Therapeutic Agent for Change

Play therapy is implemented as a treatment of choice in mental health, school, agency, developmental, hospital, residential, and recreational settings, with clients of all ages (Carmichael, 2006; Reddy, Files-Hall, & Schaefer, 2005).

Play therapy helps children:

  • Become more responsible for behaviors and develop more successful strategies.
  • Develop new and creative solutions to problems.
  • Develop respect and acceptance of self and others.
  • Learn to experience and express emotion.
  • Cultivate empathy and respect for thoughts and feelings of others.
  • Learn new social skills and relational skills with family.
  • Develop self-efficacy and thus a better assuredness about their abilities.

Issues in which play therapy is being used

Play therapy is often used for children as divisional therapy with the help of which they are capable to bring out their pent up emotions because of stress they experience in their day to day life. It is often used to treat mental and behavioral illness as well. Some of the issues where play therapy is used effectively:

  • Attention Deficit hyperactive syndrome.
  • Anger Management
  • Anxiety disorders.
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders.
  • Aggression
  • School - related issues
  • Grief and loss
  • Divorce
  • Learning Difficulties
  • Trauma and Crisis

How Play Therapy Works

When child's mind undergo any stressful situation either physical, mental or emotional. They tend to engage themselves in an inappropriate behavior . Parents are quite eager to know the problem, behind their changed behavior, but find it quite difficult to explore as child is not quite expressive. In such difficult situations, play therapy comes out to be very effective to explore the behavioral issues in all age groups.

Therapy benefits children of all age groups, it is found to be very effective for children under 12 years of age. A typical session lasts for around 30 -45 minutes. during the therapy, therapist creates the comfortable environment, in which child is allowed to play play as they wish. This counselling room is often known as play room, and is equipped with specific toys for different age - groups. The child’s interactions with these toys essentially serve as the child’s symbolic words and are meant to encourage the child to express his or her feelings and develop healthier behaviors.

Toys used in play therapy session include a sandbox or sand tray with associated miniature figurines, art or craft materials, construction toys, stuffed animals, dolls and a dollhouse with miniature furniture, puppets, indoor sports equipment. The therapist may also incorporate the use of different techniques such as clay molding, therapeutic storytelling, music, dance, drama/role play, and creative visualization.

Play therapy can be Directive or Non - Directive in nature. Nondirective play therapy includes the grounded idea in optimal therapeutic conditions in which child have the freedom to play, children in this therapy is given opportunities to explore the solution for their problems. This approach is viewed as non-intrusive since therapist give minimal instructions regarding how a child should engage in play. Whereas, Directed play therapy involves much greater input from the therapist. This therapy is based on the belief that Directed play gives faster therapeutic than non- directive play therapy sessions.

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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