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Play Therapy Can Help Kids Feel Better

Kids can’t always tell you when there’s something wrong.

They don’t communicate the same way adults do. They may not have the insight or even the ability to speak or express their feelings, worries, or concerns.

Children can, however, communicate through play. While they may not be able to use words to say what they are experiencing, they can choose certain toys, and they can play in ways that conveys what they are feeling and thinking.

What is play therapy?

Play therapy is an established and recognized method of treatment to help children express themselves.

The Association for Play Therapy defines play therapy 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.”

PHS clinical social worker Monica Handlos puts it this way: “It’s an approach to therapy that assumes play is the language of children, and it provides a window into their perceptions, feelings, beliefs, and needs. Play therapy allows the child to confront problems in a safe setting and at a healthy distance from painful experiences.”

How does it help?

Play allows children to make sense of complicated emotions and gain mastery and understanding about difficult experiences, says Monica. Play therapy is different from simple play because it allows the therapist to help a child address and resolve problems.

Often, when children struggle to understand their experiences, this shows up as a theme in play therapy. Play is the language of children and toys are their words. Play is a safe and familiar place to have those experiences. Play therapy allows a child to lead the play and make the rules as they see fit.

When does a child need play therapy?

Play therapy works best with children aged 4 to 12. To participate in play therapy, kids don’t have to be able to talk—in fact, it works great for many PHS kids with trachs—but they do need to be able to communicate by other means.

While there are many reasons why a child can benefit from play therapy, a few of the more common ones are listed below.

For example, you might want to consider play therapy if your child needs help:

  • Adjusting to limitations
  • Resolving a medical trauma
  • Managing anxiety
  • Feeling appropriately empowered, or
  • Preparing for a specific medical procedure

Who do I contact to learn more about play therapy?

Families or caregivers interested in play therapy can call PHS and talk to Monica. If it’s determined that your child may benefit, Monica will meet with you and your child, and complete an assessment to determine if it is appropriate.

You can also discuss this option with your primary physician for more information.

Have you tried this form of therapy with your child? Do you have stories to share that could help other parents? We’d love to hear from you.

Monica Handlos, LGSW, is the Medical Social Worker at PHS. Please feel free to contact her with any questions about play therapy.

Originally published: February 4, 2011

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