In celebration of Play Day 2023, Youth Trust Counsellor Amanda explains the importance of play therapy and why we use it…
The use of play in therapy can help children in the same way that counselling can help teenagers and adults. The difference is that children communicate their feelings and make sense of what they are going through by playing rather than talking, and using creativity and toys allows them to bring the problem out into the open in a non-threatening environment and begin to have an understanding of their world and their own reactions.
Playing is the most natural way for children to express themselves. Through play they can show things on the outside that are upsetting them inside. Playing alongside a counsellor or therapist can help children explore and make sense of upsetting feelings and thoughts that have become confusing or even overwhelming. By choosing what they want to play with and going at their own pace, without being questioned or pressured, children can start to feel more in control, and this can enable them to cope better in the future.
The outcomes of using play can vary: children may feel better about themselves or less anxious; they may be more focused and less reactive; their behaviour may change; they may get on better with family and friends. Each child’s experience is unique. It is difficult to say in advance what the outcomes will be or how many sessions will be needed.
Counsellors and therapists who work with children usually have training in child development, neuroscience, and attachment (the bonding process). They are trained and experienced to use play to understand and communicate with children effectively and may use a variety of toys like puppets, books, small figures and animals, sand tray, water, clay, and art and craft materials to enable children to express themselves. It is important that the counsellor or therapist provides a trusting relationship in which the child feels safe, comfortable, and understood. The counsellor therapist will start by listening carefully to your feelings and concerns. It is important to gain an understanding of your child’s strengths and difficulties and the things that have been affecting your family.
In order to gain a full and system focused understanding of your child’s life we use a child outcome rating scale, this enables the child to express how they are doing inside themselves, how are things in their family, how are things at school and how is everything in their world. We also explore what needs to change to enable them to feel work through any difficulties.