Play Therapy

Read more about the benefits of play therapy.
What is play therapy?

Child centred play therapy is a humanistic form of counselling and psychotherapy for children from 2 years and older. At the heart of Over the rainbow play therapy is the belief in the powerful healing that takes place in the therapeutic relationship that develops between the child and the therapist. Play therapy is based on the principle that self-healing can take place within a healing environment and all humans have the ability within themselves to reach their highest potential given the right environment.

Most children experience difficulties adjusting to life circumstances at times. However, often children do not have the words to explain what they are thinking or how they are feeling internally. Parents and caregivers worry about their child when they have a problem that may cause them to be disruptive, withdrawn, sad or unable to concentrate or cope well. A parent or caregiver may be concerned about a child’s development, how they are getting on with their friends or within their family or have concerns about how they are doing in school. Sleeping, eating and toileting may also be areas a parent or caregiver may be concerned about. Play therapy provides tools such as puppets, sand play, art, clay, creative visualisations and music and movement for children to use to help them play out what they have difficulties with, without having to say it with words. Toys are a child’s words and play is their language. Children may not have the words to explain how they are feeling but through their play they are able to express what they are experiencing or feeling. Play therapy sessions are one to one. The role of the therapist is to create a safe, consistent, predictable and warm environment where the child feels free to explore and express their feelings and experiences. The aim of the play therapist is to gently encourage each child through use of therapeutic skills, to become aware of their feelings and to become empowered to express feelings appropriately. They are enabled to find resolutions to their struggles through their play. As play therapy is child led, each child chooses how they wish to spend their time in the playroom. They may play on their own, include the therapist in their play or sometimes they may choose not to play at all. They are given the opportunity to make choices for themselves and this can be very empowering. Through play the child is enabled to make sense of their past experiences thus allowing them to move forward  with better coping skills for their future.

An introduction to Child Psychotherapy and Play Therapy by Eileen Prendiville, Course Director for the MA in Humanistic & Integrative Psychotherapy and Play Therapy:

What are the benefits of play therapy?

Play therapy has many benefits. It helps children with expressing their feelings in constructive ways. It helps them to make choices and accept responsibility for choices made. It develops coping skills and resilience as well as developing problem solving skills. It builds self-esteem and confidence. It supports emotional healing and develops inner strength. Play therapy meets and accepts the child where they are at and provides support to facilitate each child in reaching their full potential while also developing emotional intelligence and resilience.

Who can play therapy help?

Any child can benefit from play therapy. It promotes creativity, self esteem, self confidence, concentration, communication, problem solving skills, emotional intelligence and happiness.

Play therapy is useful for all children as it helps them to make sense of the world and helps them to reach their highest potential.

Possible reasons for referrals:

  • Family disruptions such as marital separation or divorce
  • Emotional, social or behavioural issues
  • Anxiety
  • Separation difficulties
  • Low self esteem
  • Delayed development or uneven development
  • Bullying
  • ADD, ADHD and Autism
  • Poor play skills
  • Selective Mutism
  • Learning difficulties
  • Communication difficulties
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Illnesses or hospitisation
  • Trauma
  • Fostering or adoption
  • Bereavement
  • Abuse or neglect
  • Attachment and bonding issues
For Kids.

Parents or caregivers who seek play therapy for their child often ask how they should explain play therapy to their child. The information given here will help give answers to questions children may ask about play therapy and is useful in helping children understand what play therapy is and how it can help.

What is play therapy?

A play therapist is a person who has learned all about how to help children if they have some sort of worry, problem or muddle in their lives that they may need help with. If you hurt yourself on the outside, a doctor would help to make it feel better. The play therapist is a person you can go to who can help with hurts or feelings you need help understanding on the inside. You don’t need to find words to explain these feelings to the play therapist all you have to do is play. This is because children play their feelings better than they talk about them. The play therapist will talk to the adults in your life before she meets you. That will help her to understand how best to help you and to get to know about you before you meet her.

Why am I going to play therapy?

The play therapist has been asked to see you because you feel angry or sad or maybe you can’t stop fighting with people. You might be crying sometimes and not understand why. Maybe something difficult has happened in your life that you need help understanding. You might feel worried sometimes or feel bad about yourself. The play therapist is there to help you feel better without having to talk about things because it can be hard to talk about feelings. She has a playroom full of toys for you to play with. Play is how children works out their feelings and learn how best to deal with them. That is all you will have to do in the playroom- just play.

What will play therapy be like?

You will meet the play therapist after she has talked to the adults in your life who know you best to see how she can help you. Your play sessions will happen once a week and they will last for 40-50 minutes. You and the therapist will play together in the playroom and get to know each other. Your play therapist will explain to you in your first session that anything that happens in the playroom is private and she will not tell anyone about your play or anything you say unless she feels that you are not safe. She will have to tell another adult if she is worried that you are not safe because it is really important that you are kept safe. She will meet your parents (caregiver) sometimes but she won’t be talking about your play or anything that you say in your play sessions, just ways that she can help you best. Your play time is not a secret. You can talk about it with anyone you want to, but you don’t have to. If you feel like keeping it to yourself then that is ok. In sessions you can choose to play with the toys in all the ways you want.

How will play therapy help me?

Play will help you to understand your feelings better. Your play therapist will help you understand as you play. This will help to sort out any muddles you may have.  You might have to play for a while before this happens but when it does and you and your play therapist feel like you are ready to finish your play therapy you will agree a time for finishing. It is hard to say goodbye sometimes but your play therapist will be there to help.

For parents/caregivers.

If you feel like your child or a child that you work with might benefit from play therapy please feel free to contact Charlotte for further information. Upon referral she will arrange a meeting with relevant adults in the child’s life to gather background information and conduct an initial assessment of the child to determine if play therapy is suitable.  This initial meeting involves some simple questions and a questionnaire to identify where the child needs support and identify therapeutic goals. Objectives, fees and payments will be discussed and agreed. The dates of the sessions will be set and when a review meeting will be held is also agreed. Play therapy sessions are one to one, once a week, ideally on the same day at the same time each week. Sessions will usually last between 40-50 minutes depending on the age and developmental capacity of the child. The length of time a child will attend play therapy for will depend on the complexity of their needs. Children will normally attend for 12-15 sessions. Sessions will develop at the child’s own pace. Long term or ongoing issues may require further blocks of therapy. Complex cases may require sessions over a longer period of 12 months or more. The play therapist makes a contract with the child in the initial play session in which the therapist lets the child know that they will not share information about the play or anything the child says or does expect if the therapist is concerned about the child’s safety. This agreement between therapist and child is very important in developing trust in the relationship. Tempting as it is, it is important that parents or caregivers avoid asking the child about their play therapy sessions. It is their space, if they choose to talk about their sessions, that is fine but their sessions are confidential. This is all part of the healing process in allowing the child to be completely themselves in an unconditionally accepting environment. It allows them to explore issues that may be causing them difficulties and gives them the space to do so.

Allow at least 6-8 sessions to allow your child to build a rapport with the therapist and settle in to the playroom. There will be a review meeting with parents at this stage to discuss progress. Ideally a child should be given time to process their emotions and experiences and adapt them into the world. Ending sessions are very important. The therapist will have regular reviews with the parent or caregiver throughout the play therapy process. A timeframe for ending, when the time comes will be discussed to allow the child adequate time to prepare for the ending of their play therapy. It is an important part of the healing process that the child attends the ending sessions.

Things that parents can do to help their child through the play therapy process

Tell your child they will be coming to play sessions to play with a play therapist who will help them with angry feelings, fighting with friends, sad feelings, or some difficult life event that they have gone through or any issue the child may be having difficulty with. Tell them Mom, Dad or  caregiver are taking them to play therapy because sometimes it is hard to talk about feelings. Tell them the therapist will meet with you before sessions and at other stages during their time in play therapy to talk about how they can best help. Explain to the child that they are not expected to do anything but play and talk as they want to. There is more information given in the information for kids section which explains play therapy in a child friendly age appropriate way.

Things to avoid doing:

  • Telling the child they have a problem or that they are bad.
  • As children generally enjoy coming to sessions and look forward to it each week avoid using a threat of not taking them to play therapy as a consequence for behaviours.
  • Telling them to listen to the therapist or behave in sessions.
  • Putting pressure on the child to discuss what happens in their play sessions or asking them if they like it as it is hard for children to articulate their experience in play therapy.
What is Psychotherapy?

The practice of psychotherapy is the comprehensive, conscious and planned treatment of emotional, psychosocial, psychosomatic and behavioural disturbances or states of suffering which human beings can experience at any stage of their lives. It may include facilitating a client to engage with unconscious elements underpinning troublesome moods or behaviour. The treatment provided for the presenting individual draws upon scientifically proven psychotherapeutic methods. It requires both a general and a specific training/education on the part of the therapist. ICP defines psychotherapy in its broadest sense as focusing on the potential and dynamics of human relationships. It facilitates the individual, couple, family or groups’ possibilities to create more satisfying relationships and outcomes in relation to dilemmas in their lives. The central aim is to establish a therapeutic relational stance in relation to the client, be it individual, group or family, that will lead to a personal/ internal change and/or external adaptation. (From ICP Position Paper Jan 15A from IAPTP website)

Charlotte Lyne Play Therapist

Charlotte is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and Play Therapist working both privately in her own practice ’Over the rainbow children’s centre’ in Letterkenny and in school settings. She accepts referrals from parents, carers, GPs, social workers and teachers.

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