Child clients benefit the most from therapy when they work with a therapist who is trained to understand how their minds work and who know how to find meaning in their behavior.
The Tabor Therapy Group, Inc. offers Play Therapy services by one of the few groups in McHenry County with a Registered Play Therapy (RPT) on staff. Play Therapy is a specialty service and is overseen by at the National level by The Association for Play Therapy (APT).
It is not “just playing.”
APT defines play therapy 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.”
More simply put, child play therapy is a way of being with the child that honors their unique developmental level and looks for ways of helping in the “language” of the child – play. Licensed mental health professionals therapeutically use play to help their clients, most often children ages three to 12 years, to better express themselves and resolve their problems.
Play Therapy works best when a safe relationship is created between the therapist and client, one in which the latter may freely and naturally express both what pleases and bothers them.
Play Therapy can be used to help treat a variety of issues, including anger management, grief and loss, divorce and family dissolution, and crisis and trauma, and for modification of behavioral symptoms of anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), autism or pervasive developmental, academic and social developmental, physical and learning disabilities, and conduct disorders (Bratton, Ray, & Rhine, 2005).
Research suggests Play Therapy is an effective mental health approach, regardless of age, gender, or the nature of the problem, and works best when a parent, family member, or caretaker is actively involved in the treatment process.
Why Play in Therapy?
Play therapy is a structured, theoretically based approach to therapy that builds on the normal communicative and learning processes of children (Carmichael, 2006; Landreth, 2002; O’Connor & Schaefer, 1983). The curative powers inherent in play are used in many ways. Therapists strategically utilize play therapy to help children express what is troubling them when they do not have the verbal language to express their thoughts and feelings (Gil, 1991). In play therapy, toys are like the child’s words and play is the child’s language (Landreth, 2002). Through play, therapists may help children learn more adaptive behaviors when there are emotional or social skills deficits (Pedro-Carroll & Reddy, 2005). The positive relationship that develops between therapist and child during play therapy sessions can provide a corrective emotional experience necessary for healing (Moustakas, 1997). Play therapy may also be used to promote cognitive development and provide insight about and resolution of inner conflicts or dysfunctional thinking in the child (O’Connor & Schaefer, 1983; Reddy, Files-Hall, & Schaefer, 2005).
How Does Play Therapy Work?
Children are referred for play therapy to resolve their problems (Carmichael; 2006; Schaefer, 1993). Often, children have used up their own problem solving tools, and they misbehave, may act out at home, with friends, and at school (Landreth, 2002). Play therapy allows trained mental health practitioners who specialize in play therapy, to assess and understand children’s play. Further, play therapy is utilized to help children cope with difficult emotions and find solutions to problems (Moustakas, 1997; Reddy, Files-Hall, & Schaefer, 2005). By confronting problems in the clinical Play Therapy setting, children find healthier solutions. Play therapy allows children to change the way they think about, feel toward, and resolve their concerns (Kaugars & Russ, 2001). Even the most troubling problems can be confronted in play therapy and lasting resolutions can be discovered, rehearsed, mastered and adapted into lifelong strategies (Russ, 2004).
Who Benefits from Play Therapy?
Although everyone benefits, play therapy is especially appropriate for children ages 3 through 12 years old (Carmichael, 2006; Gil, 1991; Landreth, 2002; Schaefer, 1993). Teenagers and adults have also benefited from play techniques and recreational processes. Infants and Toddlers can also benefit from play therapy interventions.
How Will Play Therapy Benefit A Child?
Research supports the effectiveness of play therapy with children experiencing a wide variety of social, emotional, behavioral, and learning problems, including: children whose problems are related to life stressors, such as divorce, death, relocation, hospitalization, chronic illness, assimilate stressful experiences, physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, and natural disasters (Reddy, Files-Hall, & Schaefer, 2005). Play therapy helps children:
- Become more responsible for behaviors and develop more successful strategies.
- Develop new and creative solutions to problems.
- Develop respect and acceptance of self and others.
- Learn to experience and express emotion.
- Cultivate empathy and respect for thoughts and feelings of others.
- Learn new social skills and relational skills with family.
- Develop self-efficacy and thus a better assuredness about their abilities.
Positive treatment effects were found to be greatest when there was a parent or caregiver actively involved in the child’s treatment.
How Long Does Play Therapy Take?
Each play therapy session varies in length but usually last about 30 to 50 minutes. Sessions are usually held weekly. Research suggests that it takes an average of 20 play therapy sessions to resolve the problems of the typical child referred for treatment. Of course, some children may improve much faster while more serious or ongoing problems may take longer to resolve (Carmichael, 2006; Landreth, 2002).
Who Practices Play Therapy?
The practice of play therapy requires extensive specialized education, training, and experience. A play therapist is a licensed mental health professional who has earned a Master’s or Doctorate degree in a mental health field with considerable general clinical experience and supervision.
With advanced, specialized training, experience, and supervision, mental health professionals may also earn the Registered Play Therapist (RPT) or Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor (RPT-S) credentials¹ conferred by the Association for Play Therapy (APT).
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