Play therapy is a form of treatment that helps children and families to express their emotions, improve their communication, and solve problems. Play therapy capitalizes on children’s natural ability to express their feelings and resolve conflicts through play. Play therapists use various media, including storytelling, puppet play, drama, music, dance, sand play, painting and drawing, and board games. Play therapy is most appropriate for children ages 4-12 years of age, or with families with children that age.
At times children and families explore the playroom freely, engaging in spontaneous play. At other points they may involve themselves in specific activities, such as drawing family scenes, using puppets to act out events in the family, creating a scene in a sand tray, telling stories, or playing specially designed therapeutic board games. Children and families also use the opportunity to talk about their feelings, their relationships, and difficulties in their lives.
Individual child therapy may include family sessions and family therapy may include sessions with individual children, but the main distinction between the two lies in the focus and purpose of treatment. Individual play therapy focuses on healing and strengthening individual children. Through the play as well as the special therapeutic relationship, the therapist helps children to accept their emotions, develop trust and confidence, and improve their behavior. The therapist usually meets separately with parents to give them insight into their child, update them on the child’s progress towards treatment goals, and provide guidance and support. When children and families do meet together, either to talk or to play, sessions usually focus on helping parents to understand and more effectively parent their child.
Family therapy focuses on the enrichment of family relationships and the healing of the family as a whole. Family therapists help family members to deepen their emotional bonds, communicate more effectively, and create more harmonious living environments. Towards these ends, therapists practice play therapy in a variety of formats. They might hold play sessions with siblings, engage in play with an individual parent and child, or play games with the entire family together. They may also engage in individual play with children, with the purpose of illuminating their concerns in order to communicate them to other family members.
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