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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Whiteside

What is Play Therapy?

Play therapy is a form of mental health therapy that uses play as a means of communication between a child and a professional therapist. This approach allows children to express themselves through play, rather than through traditional talk therapy. Play therapy can involve a variety of activities, such as drawing, painting, storytelling, and role-playing, and is often used to help children who are struggling with emotional or behavioral issues.


During the play therapy session, the therapist observes the child's play and uses it as a way to understand their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Play therapy can be used to help children develop coping skills, improve their self-esteem, and work through difficult emotions, anxieties, and/or traumas.



There are two main types of play therapy: directive and indirect play therapy. While both types of play therapy involve play, there are some key differences between them.


Directive play therapy is a structured form of play therapy that is typically used with younger children. In this type of therapy, the therapist takes an active role in directing the play and guiding the child’s behavior. The therapist may use specific toys or activities to elicit certain emotions or behaviors from the child. For example, the therapist may ask the child to draw a picture of their family and then use the picture to discuss the child’s emotions and relationships with their family members.


Indirect play therapy, on the other hand, is a more child-centered approach. In this type of therapy, the child is free to play with whatever toys or materials they choose, and the therapist takes a more passive role. The therapist may observe the child’s play and use their observations to help the child express their emotions and thoughts. For example, the therapist may notice that the child is repeatedly building and destroying a tower with blocks, and use this observation to discuss the child’s feelings of control or powerlessness.



One of the key differences between these two types of play therapy is the level of control that the therapist has over the play. In directive play therapy, the therapist is actively directing the play and guiding the child’s behavior. In indirect play therapy, the child is free to play in any way they choose, and the therapist is there to observe and provide support.


Another difference between these two types of play therapy is the level of structure and planning involved. Directive play therapy is typically more structured, with specific activities or toys chosen in advance. Indirect play therapy is more flexible and open-ended, allowing the child to choose their own toys and materials.


Overall, both directive and indirect play therapy can be effective forms of therapy for children. The choice of which type of therapy to use may depend on the age and needs of the child, as well as the therapist’s own preferences and training. Ultimately, the goal of both types of play therapy is to provide a safe and supportive environment for children to express themselves and work through their emotions.






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