What is PLAY Therapy?

Rationale for Play Therapy

Play therapy is a particularly appropriate approach to counseling children because play comes naturally to children. “Through the manipulation of toys, the child can show more adequately than through words how he [or she] feels about himself [or her-self] and the significant persons and events in his [or her] life” (Ginott, 1961, p.51). This is because most children under the age of 9 or 10 have not yet developed the abstract reasoning skills and verbal abilities to sit in the counselor’s office and be articulate about their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. They are much more likely to be comfortable using toys and play to express themselves. Most young children have better developed receptive language skills than expressive language skills. This means that they can frequently comprehend concepts even when they do not know how to verbalize them. This allows the counselor to combine play and verbalizations to communicate ideas to children.

Different Approaches to Play Therapy

There are many different ways to use play in the counseling of children (and adults). Each of the approaches to play therapy has unique methods of conceptualizing people, defining the role of the counselor, and interacting with clients and their parents. Depending on the counselor’s beliefs about people, his or her personality, and the client population, the counselor may choose to adhere strictly to one particular theoretical approach to play therapy or to apply different approaches in an eclectic fashion. I believe that play therapists should seek out those approaches that are most congruent with their basic beliefs about people and their personalities.

Play therapy is an appropriate intervention approach for working with young children who lack the abstract verbal abilities to articulate their difficulties clearly enough to receive support and assistance from counselors. This strategy seems to work with children experiencing a broad range of difficulties.

The play therapist must carefully select toys that will help children to express their thoughts and feelings. The arrangement of the toys and the atmosphere in the play therapy setting must provide comfort and consistency so that children will feel safe in acting out problem situations and relationships.

Although each approach to play therapy has its own philosophy and rationale for the play therapy process and the selection of toys, the play therapist uses the play therapy process to help children gain a better understanding of how they view themselves, others, and the world and to learn new attitudes to replace self-defeating attitudes. The play therapist chooses toys designed to facilitate this exploration and to help children learn new ways of interacting with others.

Play therapy seems to work best with children who have issues surrounding power and control, children with poor self-concepts and social skills and children who have experienced some kind of trauma.

Scott Sabath specializes in treating young children with Play Therapy.

Published by

Dr. Gnap

Dr. Gnap is a family practice physician and behavioral medicine specialist in suburban Chicago.  Dr. Gnap developed the Inner Control™ Program in 1970 and has worked with thousands of people to improve and correct medical, emotional, behavioral and learning problems including performance.  He started the Inner Control program because so many patients asked, “what more can be done along with traditional treatment methods?”

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