This week is National Play Therapy Week, a time when we celebrate and advocate for the use of play in working with children. While some people may be familiar with the idea of play therapy, many parents come into the therapy process with a lot of questions about play therapy or believing some myths that they’ve heard about therapy. For example, I often hear “All Jimmy says you do in there during your therapy sessions is play, but he’s not talking!” or “Jimmy doesn’t have any really big problems, so he probably doesn’t need therapy right?” When kids are in a play therapy session, professionals use play as a tool inspire hope and healing in children’s lives. Here are some common play therapy myths debunked.
Therapy is Only for Grown Ups
Unfortunately, adults are not the only ones who experience challenges with their mental wellbeing. In 2021, over 2 million kids under the age of 18 experienced a depressive disorder and over eight in ten youth in the United States screened for moderate or severe anxiety. Being a kid is hard, and being a kid during a pandemic is even harder. While therapy may look different for children and adolescents than it does for adults, therapy can be effective for addressing a range of challenges that kids face. Research shows that play therapy is effective for decreasing symptomology and improving functioning in daily life for kids.
Play Therapy is only for “Really Big” Problems
Play therapy is for everyone and can address lots of different needs! Play therapy can work for individual and families; children, teens, and adults; those who are experiencing grief, guilt, divorce, sadness, change, pandemics. Play therapy is useful for those with social needs, those who want to foster creativity, and improve communication. People do not need to be in crisis to be able to benefit from the therapeutic powers of play. Play therapy is for anyone who wants to have a better functioning life!
Kids Need to Talk in Therapy
Think about the last time you tried to talk with a 5-year-old about the day they had. My experience is that unless something is tied to a really strong emotion, it is difficult to get very many words out of kids related to their experiences. That is totally normal based on their developmental levels. Young children often don’t have the ability to use language to completely and holistically describe their emotions, experiences, or thoughts. Instead, play is the language of children. Kids process how they are experiencing the world through their play.
I will always remember my very first moment of truly seeing play therapy “work.” As an intern, we were working with a little girl who was experiencing anxiety. Specifically, her mom told us, she was worried about an upcoming move to a new home. In the playroom each session, she would go to the dollhouse with a kid doll, and the kid would wander all over the house looking for her room. Using the power of play, we validated her feelings, helped her gain some insight, and introduced a “guide” type character to help the doll character find her room in the house and feel acclimated in the home. Soon after, mom reported her anxiety symptoms had gone away and they discharged from therapy. We never talked about how the doll was a representation of the little girl herself, and we never talked directly about her moving. Simply by using the language that she was already using, we were able to come alongside her to promote wellness.
To find out more about play therapy and play therapists, go to www.a4pt.org.
Bratton, S. C., Ray, D., Rhine, T., & Jones, L. (2005). The Efficacy of Play Therapy With Children: A Meta-Analytic Review of Treatment Outcomes. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 36(4), 376–390. https://doi.org/10.1037/0735-7028.36.4.376