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Play therapy is real therapy

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, it can be a mystery to others.  After play therapy sessions, I’ve had several parents say to me: “All my kiddo says you do in there is play. When are you going to start to do real therapy?” In some ways, it is true, but play during a play therapy session is so much more than every day play a child may do at home or at school. When kids are in a play therapy session, professionals use play as a tool to inspire hope and healing in children’s lives.

2020 Play Therapy Week

What is play therapy?

Play is essential to children’s growth and development and is a main way they express themselves. In play therapy, a therapist will use specific techniques to treat a range of difficulties a child may be experiencing, including emotional or behavioral challenges. Play therapists may use art, games, drama, dance, sand, toys, puppets, or stories during the session to understand a child, teach new skills, process thoughts and feelings, and help kiddos express themselves in healthy ways. Children then take these skills with them out of the playroom and use them at home, school, and in the community.

Who is play therapy for?

Play therapy is primarily used for children age 12 and under, but can be used with people of all ages, developmental stages, and genders. Even families can be a part of the play therapy process, and research shows that when caregivers are involved in therapy, it is more effective. At Tanager Place, a therapist may recommend individual or family play therapy to treat many different concerns or challenges such as aggression, attachment needs, trauma, anxiety, Autism, grief, relationship stress, and more.

Why play therapy?

Play therapists meet children at their developmental level and work with their needs in the playroom. Just as an adult may go to therapy to “talk out” thoughts and feelings, children use play to express themselves and grow. Trained professionals use play to help children more effectively cope with their surroundings, make sense of their world, communicate with others, express feelings, build positive relationships, and develop problem-solving skills. The gains made in a play therapy room can have impacts that last a lifetime.

More information about play therapy and play therapists is available on the Association for Play Therapy website.

This post was written by Joella Gerber, LISW, a lead therapist at our Coralville Behavioral Health Clinic.

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