Play Therapy

Children’s behaviors are communication for what they feeling that they cannot express in words. Whether a child is withdrawn, anxious, melting down or being aggressive, these behaviors are a form of communication. As child therapists, we are trained to uncover the feeling beneath the behavior and give voice to the child’s needs. 

Play Therapy involves the use of play to communicate with children and to help children learn to solve problems and change their problematic behaviors. Children naturally engage in play to create meaning and organize their experiences. This allows children to distance themselves from difficult feelings and experiences through symbolic expression, using the toys as the medium to disclose these feelings. The therapeutic playroom becomes a sacred place to process and explore painful fears, anxieties and inadequacies.

Play therapy can be conducted in-person or online (see FAQs). 

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Play Therapy is recommended for children ages 2-12 experiencing a variety of symptoms including but not limited to:

  • Life transitions such as a move, divorce, blended family
  • Self-control/impulsivity
  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Sadness/depression
  • Situational trauma
  • Abuse/Neglect
  • Adoption support
  • Bullying/struggling peer relationships
  • Low self esteem
  • Anxiety, generalized fear
  • Social skills/boundaries
  • Grief/bereavement
  • Medical trauma
  • Attachment concerns
  • Nightmares/bed-wetting
  • Strengthening family relationships
  • Challenges with academic motivation/success
  • Focus/inattention

Frequently Asked Questions

When an adult encounters a challenging situation, adults often analyze it and process it with others. Children are not typically able to verbalize and problem solve the same way as adults. That’s where play therapy comes in.

Play therapy is a developmentally sensitive model that acknowledges that children naturally communicate through the language of play. Before the age of 12, the brain does not have the capacity for abstract reasoning and therefore it is difficult for children to express themselves in words (Paiget’s theory of child development).

In play therapy, we create a safe atmosphere where children can express themselves through play, experientially “play out” new roles, learn social skills, and work through their problems. This gives children the opportunity to learn to solve their own problems, explore different ways of reacting and change maladaptive behaviors.

Much of the same principles apply to play therapy online. See more below.

All services are currently offered online due to COVID-19. We hope to provide play therapy in-person in the near future. Please check our website for any updates.

It depends. Each child and family is different and will require an individualized plan for working together in this medium. Our first step is to schedule an initial 20 minute phone consultation to hear your concerns and determine an appropriate plan for care. Online services could include individual child sessions, parent support, or teaching parents to facilitate child-led playtime at home with coaching from a play therapist. 

Your therapist will work with your child to process feelings and build coping strategies while engaging in expressive and creative mediums. Parents help by setting your child up for the call with some play materials (your therapist might suggest some specific items) in a private place.

Play therapy sessions are between 25-55 minutes. When in-person, the child is invited into the playroom or when online, invited to play and engage with the therapist. As needed, limits are set. This is done in a way that allows for balancing expressive freedom within safety and limitations. Ultimately, this helps children make choices and develop self-responsibility.

In a typical play therapy session, whether online or in-person, the play therapist reflects how your child is engages and the underlying emotions that seem to accompany the actions rather than asking questions.

For the first few sessions, your child may request that you stay with them during the online session or accompany them into the playroom (if meeting in-person) until they are comfortable staying alone with the play therapist. When the child seems ready, the play therapist will state, “It seems like you’re feeling comfortable now, so your parent will go and wait for you in the other room until we are finished.” Please avoid giving excuses for leaving, simply stand and say that you will be outside until the play session is done.

During therapy, your child’s behavior may appear to get worse before it improves. This is normal, as it is common for the child to go through a period of sorting through intense feelings in play therapy.

Your play therapist will meet with you for the initial intake session, then have 3 sessions with your child, and then have you return for a the first parent follow up. From there, parent consultation sessions of 25-55 minutes occur every 3-6 individual play therapy sessions, or as clinically indicated. Your therapist will share general themes from your child’s play, as opposed to specific things said or done. This helps maintain your child’s trust in therapy and in the therapeutic process.

Your play therapist will also provide you with parenting strategies that will help build upon the individual work with your child.

Play therapy is not the same as playing. Play therapy uses your child’s natural tendency to “play out” their feelings, worries, and life situations in the presence of a specially trained play therapist. The play therapist helps the child to feel accepted, understood and gain a sense of control or understanding about difficult feelings or situations.

Research on the brain and development has informed the concept of  “neuro-plasticity,” which means it continues to mold and grow based on experience. Of course, personality and temperament are somewhat determined by genes, but the primary agent of change within the brain is through experience and relationship.

That’s why play therapy works! It works at an experiential level, giving children the opportunity to play out real-life situations in the context (and safety) of the play in order to gain understanding about themselves and the world around them.

The length of time a child is seen in play therapy varies from child to child. The research shows that a minimum of 20 sessions is recommended with most long-term changes occurring at closer to 40 sessions. Though some children show significant changes and progress before 20 sessions. It depends upon the child’s personality, the intensity of the presenting problems and implementation of other environmental supports (for example, suggestions that parents receive parent consultations to help support progress). The therapeutic progress will be discussed during parent sessions, usually suggested every 4-6 weeks, or as clinically indicated.

If meeting in-person, tell your child that they are going to meet (insert therapist’s name) in a special playroom with lots of toys each week. You might also add, “when things are hard for you at home (and/or school), sometimes it helps to have a special place to play and feel good about you.”

If online, tell your child that they are going to meet (insert therapist’s name) on the computer for special time together. You might also add, “when things are hard for you at home (and/or school), sometimes it helps to have a special person to talk to or play with that helps you feel good about you.”

The playroom provides a child-friendly environment equipped with an extensive range of therapeutic toys and art supplies. These toys are carefully selected to allow your child to play out themes of real life, safely express their feelings and allow creative expression. 

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