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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Paulsen, MA, LMFT, RPT-S

What Is Play Therapy?

Updated: Feb 11, 2023

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” — Mr. Rogers

Play Therapy is defined by the Association for Play Therapy (APT) 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."

So what does that really mean? Kids can’t sit and talk to you about their feelings like an adult can, so instead, they play! This video of “Andrew’s Day” is a wonderfully hilarious example of this!

In Play Therapy, toys are the child's words and play is the child's language (Landreth, 2002).

Who can use Play Therapy?

  • Play Therapy is often most appropriate for kids ages 3–12 (depending on the child’s developmental level). However, benefits of Play Therapy have been found in those younger than 3 and certain techniques are beneficial with teens and adults as well.

How long does Play Therapy take?

  • Sessions typically last 30 or 45 minutes, depending on the child’s age, attention span, and developmental level.

  • Sessions are more effective if they take place weekly versus biweekly (at least until some progress is made).

  • Most research shows a minimum of 12 sessions are needed.

  • “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; APT).

  • When a parent/caregiver is involved in treatment and helping create change within the home, the child is more likely to make faster progress.

When is Play Therapy appropriate?

  • If you’ve noticed significant changes in the child’s mood or behavior lasting longer than a normal developmental stage. This may include increased and persistent anger, sadness, or worrying.

  • After the death of a close loved one, family, friend, or pet.

  • When parents are going through a separation or divorce.

  • When navigating chronic illness or medical procedures.

  • When there are reported negative behaviors occurring daily at school.

  • After experiencing a natural disaster.

  • After experiencing or witnessing abuse.

  • After experiencing or witnessing another traumatic event (such as an auto accident).

  • Truthfully? Anytime, because Play Therapy can always be beneficial!

What are the benefits of Play Therapy?

  • Increased problem-solving abilities.

  • Increased identification and communication of thoughts and feelings and increased empathy for others as a result.

  • Increased ability to use coping skills and self-regulation skills.

  • Increased communication, conflict resolution skills, social skills, and improved relationships with friends and family.

  • Improved mood.

  • Increased self-esteem and confidence.

  • And more!

Want to learn more about Play Therapy?

Here is another video by the Association for Play Therapy: Play Therapy Works!

RISE currently has 4 therapists who utilize Play Therapy techniques!

If you would like to get your child started in Play Therapy, visit our Getting Started page and fill out our New Client Information Form.

We are happy to help!

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