Play Therapy - what is it?

Children find it difficult to express themselves verbally and so traditional talking therapies can be difficult for them. Play is a child’s natural way of expressing themselves, and Play Therapy provides them with an opportunity to “play out” their thoughts, feelings and problems in a non-directive way, in a safe environment with a caring therapist. In a Play Therapy session, the therapist follows the child’s lead and allows them to explore the wide range of toys available. As their relationship develops the child gains greater insight into their personal problems, through their play. The therapist uses a Play Therapy Tool Kit as well as specialist techniques such as empathetic listening and reflection to aid the therapeutic process.
Play Therapy can also be more directive, for example when used with groups rather than individuals. The therapist will form a plan for the group, incorporating different parts of the Play Therapy Tool Kit, and working toward a therapeutic aim - for example, to increase self esteem, or to develop an understanding of loss.
Modern Play Therapy practice is based upon Virginia Axline’s work and follows her principles outlined below:

The therapist:
• Must develop a warm and friendly relationship with the child.
• Accepts the child as she or he is.
• Establishes a feeling of permission in the relationship so that the child feels free to express his or her feelings completely.
• Is alert to recognise the feelings the child is expressing and reflects these feelings back in such a manner that the child gains insight into his/her behaviour.
• Maintains a deep respect for the child’s ability to solve his/her problems and gives the child the opportunity to do so. The responsibility to make choices and to institute change is the child’s.
• Does not attempt to direct the child’s actions or conversations in any manner. The child leads the way, the therapist follows.
• Does not hurry the therapy along. It is a gradual process and must be recognised as such by the therapist.
• Only establishes those limitations necessary to anchor the therapy to the world of reality and to make the child aware of his/her responsibility in the relationship.

Play Therapy Tool Kit

The Play Therapist employs a variety of toys and therapeutic aids, including:

• Therapeutic Storytelling
• Creative Visualisation/ Imagery
• Dramatherapy
• Puppets & Masks
• Music
• Dance and Movement
• Sandplay
• Painting & Drawing
• Clay, Plasticine & Playdough