Play therapy is a process that allows a child to use play to work through thoughts and feelings and learn to cope with them without having to verbalize. Children often lack the ability to formulate words for their thoughts and feelings.

Therapeutic play provides developmentally appropriate means of expression and communication for children and offers the opportunity to express themselves at their own pace with the assurance that they will be understood and accepted.

Children are referred to therapists for play therapy to resolve problems, or because they misbehave, or act out at home and school. Play therapy allows trained mental health practitioners who specialize in play therapy, to assess and understand children’s play and to help children cope with difficult emotions and find solutions to problems. Play therapy allows children to change the way they feel about problems and resolve their concerns.

The field of play therapy is growing and is represented by the Association for Play Therapy, an international professional organization. The practice of play therapy requires extensive specialized education, training, and experience. A play therapist is a licensed mental health professional who has earned a Master’s or Doctorate degree in counseling, psychology or social work with considerable general clinical experience and supervision.

Play is to the child what verbalization is to the adult. Play is a medium for expressing feelings, describing experiences, exploring relationships, disclosing desires and self-fulfillment. Through play therapy children are able to work through events and emotions, learn to identify their feelings, and cope with them.

Because a child’s language development lags behind their cognitive development, a child will communicate awareness of what is happening in his or her worlds through play. Play therapy is to children what talk therapy is to adults.

During the play therapy process, children are safe from their own feelings and reactions because play enables children to distance themselves from traumatic events or emotions difficult to discuss. By acting out a difficult situation or past experience symbolically through play therapy, and perhaps changing or reversing the outcome in the play activity, children can move toward an inner resolution and are better able to cope with problems.

At GroundWork Counseling, play therapy sessions facilitated by Child Counselor Courtney Rodrigue are 60 minutes in length. Typically play therapy is used with younger children. Courtney begins using more talk therapy and sand tray therapy by age 9.

Play therapy modalities used most at GroundWork Counseling include doll house play, dress up, clay, art, painting, drawing, and use of various toys such as dolls, Legos and cars. Toys like Legos, Play-Doh and stacking and nesting materials help develop a child’s fine motor skills. The “dress-up” area in the play room includes clothing, dolls and props such as hats and bags that encourage young children in playing “make-believe” and allows the child to make sense of the grown-up world. Research has shown that children who are active in pretend play are usually more joyful and cooperative, more willing to share and take turns, and have larger vocabularies than other children.

Play therapy sessions in Groundwork Counseling’s bright and cheery playroom are usually held weekly, and the number of sessions depends on the child. Research suggests that it takes an average of 20 play therapy sessions to resolve the problems of the typical child referred for treatment. Some children may improve much faster while more serious or ongoing problems may take longer to resolve. The therapist will then check in with the child’s parent  periodically do discuss themes, progress, and how they can help foster positive change at home.

The play therapy process allows children to consider new possibilities that are not possible in reality, and helps to greatly expand self-expression. In the safe environment of the GroundWork Counseling play therapy session, children are able to explore unfamiliar concepts as he or she plays out feelings, bringing them out in the open and learning how to control them. A major function of play therapy is the changing of what may be unmanageable in reality to manageable situations through symbolic representation, offering children opportunities for learning to cope.

Children may have considerable difficulty trying to tell what they feel or how their experiences have affected them. In the presence of a caring and empathetic adult facilitator, a child will reveal inner feelings through the toys and materials they choose, what they do with the toys and materials, and the stories they act out.  Play therapy at GroundWork Counseling provides the child with fun and safe opportunities to live out experiences and feelings, allowing the therapist to experience the child’s inner world and providing growth and healing for the child.

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