What is Play Therapy?

May 19, 2017

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than a year of conversation” – Plato

What is Play Therapy?

For a child, play is a safe medium for expressing feelings, exploring relationships, describing experiences, disclosing wishes, and self-fulfillment. Children’s language development lags behind their cognitive development, so they feel safe to communicate their awareness of what is happening in their world through their play. In play therapy toys are viewed as the child’s words and play as the child’s language–a language of activity. Play therapy to children is similar to counseling or psychotherapy to adults. In play therapy, the symbolic function of play is what is so important, providing children with a means of expressing their inner world. Emotionally significant experiences from a child’s inner world can be expressed more comfortably and safely through the symbolic representation the toys provide. Using this, counselors can experience the inner thought of the child.

Who can Benefit from Play Therapy?

Ages 3 – 12yrs benefit from Play therapy. All children go through stages of emotional distress. But some children can have serious problems, often caused by:

  • Loss of loved one
  • Family Conflict
  • Neglect
  • Family Violence
  • Abuse (Sexual, Emotional and Physical)
  • Divorce and Separation
  • Moving to a New School/Place
  • Bullying
  • Hospitalization
  • Learning Disabilities and Mental Challenges
  • Autism and ADHD
  • Chronic Illness
  • Deaf and other Physical Challenges
  • Burn Victims
  • Disassociation and Schizophrenia

Often the child needing help present the following traits or behaviors

  • Poor Academic Performance
  • Speech difficulties like Selective Mutism
  • Elimination disorders – E.g. Bedwetting after toilet training age
  • Sleep Issues – Bed time Anxiety, Nightmares
  • Fear of school
  • Test Anxiety
  • Excessive worry and sadness
  • Anger outbursts
  • Phobias
  • Anxiety when separation from caregivers
  • Relational conflict with parents, peers or siblings
  • Attachment Difficulties

How does it work?

Each play therapy session lasts 45-50 minutes and is usually held weekly. Studies have shown the average length of time for a child to receive play therapy is 20 weeks, although some children need fewer or additional sessions.

Benefits of Play Therapy

  • Children learn to accept ownership of their actions and responsibility for behaviors
  • Establish creative problem solving skills,
  • Acceptance of self and others
  • Identify and Express emotions in a healthy age appropriate way.
  • Self-regulation when in distress
  • cultivate relational skills with family,
  • Increase in Self Esteem

Reference: Adopted from Association of Play Therapy and American Counseling Association

If you want to explore Play Therapy for your child, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.


Harini Sukumaran is a Qualified Mental Health Professional and certified Ayurvedic Physician who is passionate about helping children to become less stressed by giving them and their parents tools, support and encouragement. Her passion also includes helping Women suffering from trauma, depression, anxiety and Pregnancy/Postpartum mood disorders. She received her Master’s of Science in Counseling Psychology and Master’s in Marriage, Couple’s and Family Counseling with special concentration in Children (Play Therapy), Women and Families.

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