Play therapy is a type of intervention that is specifically suited to children’s developmental level. Because play is the primary way that children learn about the world and express their thoughts and feelings, they naturally turn to play when they are overwhelmed. Play provides children with emotional safety, which allows them to describe their experiences, try on new roles and perspectives, express their feelings and inner conflicts, and gain mastery over their fears and anxiety.
When children experience upsetting events or life changes, play also becomes an important part of helping them work through what has happened to them. Directed play activities can also help children develop and practice more effective social skills, coping strategies, frustration tolerance, and problem solving skills. Ultimately, play therapy provides children with the opportunity to explore and heal in a way that feels natural and safe, and that allows them to distance themselves from events that are most difficult for them.
In session, specific activities will differ depending on your child and their presenting strengths and difficulties. Your child will have the opportunity to direct and lead their play process. As well, your child will engage in structured and directive activities to help learn and practice new skills, or to help them understand their life experiences better.
Play therapy can be helpful for children who are struggling with:
- Behavioral Challenges
- Trouble Regulating Emotions
- Anxiety and Stress
- Social Difficulties
- Supporting Resiliency
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Sleep Challenges
- Foster and Adoption
- Relationship Difficulties
Several modalities of play therapy are available depending on your child’s age and needs:
Synergetic Play Therapy
Synergetic Play Therapy is a child-centered approach that is informed by research on stress responses and recovery in the nervous system, interpersonal neurobiology, attachment, and mindfulness. When children are struggling with emotions and behaviour, their body’s stress response system can go into over-drive or shut down in a collapse state. Through working in the metaphor of play and in attunement with their Psychologist, children have the opportunity to express and co-regulate uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and body sensations that they would not have been able to move towards as easily on their own.
For more information on Synergetic Play Therapy
A secure attachment between children and caregivers has been repeatedly showed to be an important foundation for positive child development outcomes. Theraplay is a parent-child dyad therapy, where one or both parents come into session with their child to participate in interactive games and activities that help to create resiliency and promote secure attachments. These activities are playful and aim to provide structure, challenge, engagement, and nurture/care. Parents learn to play with their child in a way that supports emotional safety, regulation, and self-esteem. Theraplay activities can be especially helpful when parent-child relationships have been strained or interrupted in some way (e.g., parent separation, or children in foster placements).
Sand Tray Therapy
Sand tray therapy is a hands-on and creative approach to therapy where children and teens use a variety of miniature figures and objects in a sand tray and create scenes that reflect aspects of their inner and outer world. The sand tray may be used in directive and non-directive ways to help increase children’s expression of their thoughts, feelings, and memories. This approach is particularly helpful for children and teens who may have a hard time verbalizing past and present struggles.
Cognitive-Behavioral Play Therapy
Cognitive-behavioral play therapy integrates play activities with cognitive and behavioural therapies so that it is developmentally suited for younger children. This approach is directive and educational. Play materials are chosen and used to recreate a child’s struggle in safe ways, as well as to promote understanding, model adaptive ways of thinking, and to teach healthy problem solving and coping skills.
“Enter into children’s play and you will find the place
where their minds, hearts and souls meet.”