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What is play therapy?
Play therapy is formally defined as “the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained Play Therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development” (Association for Play Therapy).
In simpler terms, play therapy is the practice of using toys and games to help children and young adults control impulses, improve attention, and process feelings of trauma, anxiety, grief, and abandonment.
Play Therapy falls under two general categories: Directive and Non-Directive.
Directive vs. Non-directive
In directive play therapy, the therapist leads and the child follows. That is, the therapist stays in charge of the nature of activities, pace, and all other aspects related to the therapy. Examples of directive play therapy include learning relaxation skills or identifying worrisome thoughts.
In non-directive play therapy, the child leads and the therapist follows. Here, clients are allowed to choose what they want to do, which toys to play with, and when to stop; while the therapist serves as an observer and reflector, giving the child as much freedom as needed in order to complete the session. Examples of non-directive play therapy are puppet shows, expressive art, mutual storytelling, and sand tray.
Directive treatment is usually used to grow attention skills and impulse control; whereas non-directive treatment is used to help patients process internal anxiety, depression, trauma-related symptoms, so forth.
I LOVE sandtray therapy. Up until this point, sandtray has ‘kind of’ been under the umbrella of Play Therapy. However STT is launching to have it’s own identity with the International Association of Sandtray therapy and there are some other associations as well.
Sandtray therapy provides so much healing. It is the most powerful intervention I have used as a therapist. In sandtray therapy, the client creates a world with miniature items, sometimes the client creates a symbolic world intentionally and sometimes just a world. Sometimes these worlds will have a story. As the client plays in the sand, they become more self regulated, almost in trance state, allowing their subconscious to come out in a safe environment. Sandtray has a basis in interpersonal neuroscience and relational theories. It is an effective way to process trauma indirectly, which can be less intimidating for the client.
Time and time again I see people’s lives change, one sandtray at a time.
My Approach to Play Therapy
My clinical experience has taught me that children should not be forced towards healing but rather a healing environment and relationship helps provide the space and child will move toward healing naturally. Once children get comfortable with the treatment environment and the therapist, they become more receptive to interventions and are far more likely to work towards self-actualization. In other words, a play therapist allows children the freedom to explore, discover, and think for themselves, rather than force solutions/interventions on them.
Providing the right environment requires some planning and structure. Some clients need extended freedom to explore and discover, while other need to work within a controlled and structured environment—one where all elements (in this case, the toys and props) serve a well-defined purpose. Play Therapy toys are not just toys, they are purposeful and chosen for specific reasons. Sensory processing is important in the therapeutic environment, as many children who experience neglect, abuse, ADHD, and anxiety have a disrupted nervous and sensory system that needs to be rebalanced. Rebalancing can be promoted through music during a play therapy session, engaging in sensory-based objects such as sand, beans, smells, and other similar materials.
Trust is key to effective play therapy. I adjust to the client depending on what they need at the moment, whether it’s directive treatment, or non-directive treatment. My belief is that children should be able to self-actualize and engage in the treatment process internally—my job is really to guide and encourage them towards the path of healing. In addition, I emphasize the role of the family in the therapeutic process. Families are strongly encouraged to participate throughout the course of treatment until goals are achieved.
Supervision and Consultations
I provide Associate Clinical Supervision in the state of KY. I provider AAMFT supervision mentoring.
I provide consultation for clinicians related to my area of experience which includes attachment, trauma, and family therapy.
Rules About Play Therapy Sessions
- I ask that parents are not to ask their child if they had fun after the session. Play is fun for children however when utilizing play as a therapeutic modality play can be very emotionally exhausting at times and it may not be fun for your child all the time. It can be hard work!
- I encourage that parents do not inquire about the session, as this helps grow complete emotional safety in the therapeutic environment. If parents have questions they can reach out for a separate appointment.
learn. heal. grow.
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