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Understanding Counselling: Play Therapy

Understanding Counselling:  Play Therapy

Play, as part of therapy?

Play therapy is a crucial approach in child development and mental health, leveraging the natural and spontaneous activity of play to facilitate expression, learning, and healing in children. It provides a unique insight into a child's emotions and experiences, fostering physical, social, emotional, and intellectual growth. Child-centered play therapy (CCPT) emphasizes the child's natural capacity for self-guidance within a supportive and accepting therapeutic relationship, empowering them and promoting emotional growth. The involvement of parents and sometimes teachers enhances the therapy's effectiveness, creating a comprehensive support system. Play therapy has been shown to improve behavioral and social-emotional competencies, academic performance, and potentially prevent long-term adverse outcomes associated with childhood trauma. It is an essential modality for supporting the well-being of children, offering profound benefits for their immediate and future lives.

To grow up to be healthy, very young children do not need to 

know how to read, but they do need to know how to play. 


                                                                                   ~ Mr. (Fred) Rogers


Written by Karthika Murthy, Registered Provisional Psychologist

Play is a spontaneous activity of childhood. You remember what it's like - unlike so many of the moments of our day-to-day adult lives, play is voluntary, enjoyable and not goal-directed. You can go with the flow, and run to places you've never been, explore ideas that break the rules of the natural order, and yes...even paint outside the lines.

That said, have you ever considered this? According to some child development experts play is important in physical, motor, social, emotional and intellectual development. The UN proclamation considers play as a universal right of every child for their natural growth and development. Neuroscience also supports play and suggests that play can help in building and strengthening neural pathways in the brain. Play motivates children to learn (and even want to learn) - yes kids can get smarter when they play!


How can play therapy help?

Play is the language of children and through play the therapist is able to enter the into the child’s world. Play helps in establishing a warm therapeutic relationship between the child and the therapist which becomes an agent for change and growth by the child. As adults express themselves through words and conversation - children express themselves through play.

Children’s play is meaningful and important to them because by using toys they are able to say or act in ways that they are uncomfortable doing in the real world fearing rejection or negative consequences. The medium of play helps the therapist see the child’s behaviour firsthand

For example: sometimes we will see aggression shown in play by hitting a stuffed toy. This provides an opportunity for the child to learn self-control by responding appropriately using emotional regulation strategies.

By playing the child is showing their internal world externally and is learning to open up and face them appropriately.


About Child-Centered Play Therapy

Child-centred play therapy is a complete therapeutic system that deeply believes in the capacity and resiliency of children to direct their growth by having the freedom in the play therapy relationship to be themselves. They playfully express their feelings and experiences without being judged. By providing an accepting therapeutic environment the therapist can relate to the child in a way that will release the child’s creative, forward-moving, self-healing ability. This helps the child feel empowered enabling them to self-exploration and self-discovery, leading to constructive change. The therapist aims to develop a relationship with the child that facilitates the child’s emotional growth and belief in themselves. 


Role of the Parents

Parents are important members of the treatment team. Parents live with their children 24 hours and 7 days a week loving and observing their child. Parents' wealth of knowledge about their child will help the therapeutic process. Therefore the parent's concerns are carefully heard by the therapist with empathy and acceptance. The therapist helps the parents to understand the Child-centred Play Therapy (CCPT) process by connecting the child’s challenges to the CCPT process. There are regular meetings with the parents as the therapist is not working with the child alone but with the parents to provide parenting skills to behaviour management etc.  Sometimes teachers are also a part of the team to gain important information about the child for better treatment decisions. Play Therapy within the family therapy framework has proven beneficial for both adults and children for better communication during difficult situations like divorce.


Some Benefits of Play Therapy as reported by Be Centre

  • Play therapy has a positive effect on the behavioural and social-emotional competencies of children. This also includes children having autism, ADHD and disruptive behaviours.

  • Play Therapy has a positive impact on academic performance. 

  • When parents or the caregivers of the children are involved in Play Therapy it can lead to greater benefits for the child and the family.

  • There has been little research done into the lifelong benefits of play therapy. However, evidence exists to suggest that: 

  • Play can help to prevent the onset of health and well-being consequences associated with adverse childhood experiences. 

  • The childhood benefits of play therapy may help to prevent individuals from exhibiting anti-social behaviour, criminal behaviour and severe mental health issues in later life.


Play therapy stands out as an essential model in child development and mental health. Valuing and utilizing the natural language of play offers a profound means for children to heal, learn, and grow, supported by the collaborative efforts of therapists, parents and those surrounding the child. The ongoing benefits of play therapy not only contribute to the immediate well-being of children but also hold the promise of fostering resilient, well-adjusted people capable of navigating the complexities of life with confidence and competence




Your Partner In Wellness

Your Partner In Wellness

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