Many children and adolescents express themselves most effectively through the language of play. Play is an essential part of each person’s growth and development. In a trusting environment with therapeutic guidance and participation, play can become play therapy.
In play therapy children are safe to play out feelings, bring hidden emotions to the surface and learn ways to cope with their difficulties. Play therapy can help children and adolescents communicate in a developmentally appropriate way. They express their feelings and experiences through play and the toys provide the symbols of their communication. Play therapy allows children to gain control over their thoughts, feelings and actions.
In my experience, play therapy has been a useful intervention in addressing extremely painful events in a child’s life in a less threatening way than speaking about it directly. Having a doll express anger towards her family member is easier than saying “I am angry with my uncle” for example, and therefore more accessible to the child and therapist. When a child or adolescent chooses a symbol such as a wolf, a princess, a dragon etc., it may serve as a useful metaphor in later sessions. It allows for discovery that wolves need and deserve love, princesses can be smart and resourceful and dragons can protect themselves. Working with the language of play allows the child or adolescent to express themselves in a creative and comfortable way.