Play & Play Therapy

The Importance of Play

Play is vitally important to enable children achieve developmental milestones, acquire an emotional vocabulary, develop secure attachments, and negotiate the normal ups and downs of everyday living. “Play is vital to every child’s social, emotional, cognitive, physical, creative and language development” (BAPT 2005). It is through play that children best express themselves, therefore children with poor play skills will be hampered in their relationships and ability to make sense of their world and their experiences.  All children, and most especially those with identified extra needs, will benefit from a systematic approach that ensures that they are provided with extensive opportunities, and assistance, to develop play skills and to engage in playful activities.  Play is not a luxury or a pastime for children – it is the very means through which they develop and grow to reach their potential, and realise their capacity to engage in meaningful relationships with others.  There are many stages in play development and, as adults, we can be alert to offering age and stage appropriate playful environments and providing opportunities to maximise each child’s playful encounters.

Developmental and Therapeutic Play:

Developmental and therapeutic play includes the use of play-based activities to assist children, including those with special needs, in the development of skills, personal resources, positive self-esteem, and holistic development. Specific training (e.g. CTC’s level 6 Therapeutic Play Skills Certificate) is required to enhance the general skill set of professionals including teachers, child care workers, social workers, so that they can provide therapeutic play experiences within their main role.

Some workers will utilise the play to add a new dimension to another relationship they have with the child and to facilitate more effective communication with the child.  Others will focus more on facilitating the child’s development in a broader sense, including helping children with learning or sensory difficulties. Although therapeutic play can include non-directive play sessions, it is often activity based and can be utilised by a range of facilitators in a broad range of settings including child-care, medical, and educational settings.  These sessions tend to be issue-based rather than relationship-based, and may focus more on skills development than on resolving emotional issues.

Developmental and therapeutic play sessions can be also be provided by Play Therapists whose additional expertise is important if the child has emotional difficulties.

Play Therapy

Children may experience problems with feelings or behaviours that cause disruption to their lives and the lives of those around them. Play therapy provides a child with an opportunity to ‘play out’ their thoughts, feelings and problems just as, in certain types of adult therapy, an individual ‘talks out’ their difficulties.  It can be described as being a developmentally sensitive therapeutic modality in which a trained play therapist uses the therapeutic powers of play to help children prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development. Play permits the child to communicate with adults nonverbally, symbolically, and in an action-oriented manner. Play Therapists use approaches, interventions, media, and activities that are appropriate to the age and developmental stage of the client.

Children enter into a dynamic therapeutic relationship with the therapist that enables them to express themselves, explore and make sense of the world in which they live, and resolve any difficult or painful experiences through the medium of play.

Any child can benefit from play therapy. It promotes self-confidence, imagination, creativity, concentration, communication, problem-solving skills, self-esteem and most importantly happiness in the child. Play Therapy is suitable for children as young as two to three years old and there is no upper age limit.

Play therapy is relationship based – the power of the therapy comes from the strength of the relationship between the Play Therapist and the child.

Children must be approached and understood from a developmental perspective. They must not be viewed as miniature adults. Their world is one of concrete realities and their experiences are often communicated through play. Unlike adults whose natural medium of communication is verbalization, the natural medium of communication for children is play activity. (Landreth, 1991)

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is a mental health profession and is practised by those who are trained to the standards required by professional psychotherapy bodies, generally over a period of 4 years or more at Masters level. They generally have a primary degree in a field such as education, social care, social science, child care or psychology and relevant professional experience in on of those fields prior to training in psychotherapy.

They will have a significant understanding of the theoretical frameworks that underpin their work and will be adept in working with the process of their clients rather than focusing on formulaic activities or on problematic issues. Some psychotherapists are qualified to work with adults, others with children and/or adolescents.

Child & Adolescent Psychotherapy through the medium of Play Therapy

Some psychotherapists will have undertaken training in play therapy so that they may utilise play therapy in their psychotherapy practice. Psychotherapists with a specialisation in play therapy are ideally placed to provide relationship based and developmentally appropriate services to children and adolescents who may be struggling with minor or major issues. Their additional expertise as mental health professionals allows them to conceptualise the needs of the client at an advanced level and to make clinical decisions that are based on this deep understanding.

Their play therapy training enables them to understand the language of play and use play as the medium of communication with children, thus removing the focus on verbal communication and meeting the child at both age and stage appropriate levels.

Psychotherapists working with children and/or adolescents may be called on to work on a long-term basis with children with complex histories, significant behavioural and/or emotional difficulties, or attachment disorders.  Such children are likely to attend therapy for a minimum of six months and often for considerably longer. Those with lower level of need including adjustment issues may need a shorter-term intervention.

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