Los Angeles Christian Counseling
Play therapy for children is an innovative and very effective form of counseling that can leave a lasting, positive impression on your child. What exactly is play therapy and how does it benefit children?
Play is fun and games, for sure. But it’s not just fun and games. Play therapy is used in many forms by play therapists as a treatment and tools for conducting therapy sessions with children. After all, there’s nothing better for piquing a child’s interest and encouraging engagement than doing what they love most – playing.
The act of playing is how a child learns. As they play, their little brains are constantly processing and observing. During therapy, play allows children to work through issues just like talking things out does for adults.
A child is able to learn, discover how to regulate emotions, further their social skills, and grow and develop invaluable communication skills when playing in a setting that is therapeutic in nature. After all, the act of playing is naturally designed to help your child emotionally, physically and mentally mature into an adult, so why not incorporate it into therapy?
Play therapy for children offers an evidence-based method of intervention which allows them effective ways of learning to cope with life and make changes where necessary so long-lasting results can follow throughout adulthood.
Experts have noted the importance of child’s play ever since the days of the Greek philosopher, Plato. The therapy was initially developed in the 1920’s by Hermine Hug-Hellmuth who discovered she could analyze the thoughts and emotions of children in her therapy room as they were engaged in play. The discovery came about quite accidentally but has paved the way for one of the best, most effective methods of therapy for children in existence.
Over the years, the practice continued to evolve, allowing even more insight into the concept of gathering information regarding a child’s thoughts and emotions through the observation of play. Throughout the course of time, psychologists have been able to develop more play techniques that help children learn ways to overcome emotional struggles and other problems they are dealing with.
There are a number of evidence-based play therapy forms today. Some of the types include:
Cognitive behavioral focused play therapy, non-directive and directive play, sand tray play therapy, and more. These modes of therapy are usually used for those children who are under the age of 12, or until they reach the age they can better understand correctly. Studies have even shown play therapy is conducive for children over 12 and for adults as well.
Why is Play Therapy for Children So Effective?
Play therapy has a great success rate. Why? While at play, children don’t feel as threatened. They are much more comfortable with sharing their feelings with their counselor. It is also less intimidating because they are in their element when they are engaged in play.
There are many non-verbal ways children process events when they are playing like role-playing, drawing, therapeutic storytelling, movement, and creative visualization. At early stages of brain development in the younger years, non-verbal processing is often the most effective even over talk therapy.
If you have ever asked a child why he or she is acting out, you have probably been told, “because” or that they do not know. That typical answer isn’t just used as a ploy to keep from getting in trouble, the fact of the matter is that children lack the verbal skills to communicate what is going on inside of them. It is very possible they know what was going on prior to their action, but expressing the thought process verbally is too difficult because their verbalization skills are just not mature enough.
The frontal lobe of the brain is the area that regulates emotions and processes complex thoughts and emotions. In a child, this part of the brain has not yet fully developed and usually doesn’t until they reach the end of their 20’s. It is hard for a child who is 12 and under to put their feelings and thoughts into words and verbalize them to adults because the events they experience are stored in a part of the brain that is non-verbal.
Even traumatic events are stored in this non-verbal portion of a child’s brain which explains why it is very difficult, if not impossible, for them to explain something that they went through or their thoughts and emotions about it. That complicates therapy because counseling is usually based on talking through trauma. Thankfully, play therapy for children takes a different approach.
Using interventions that are non-verbal through play, like drawing, role-play, sand tray and art allows a child to non-verbally process and express the traumatic events.
Psychologists find play therapy for children effective because it actually aligns with the age-appropriate processing skills and brain development of a child. Children are able to process and then heal from traumatic events and discover new ways to cope with and handle life on an emotional level for an impact on their life that is long lasting, rather than merely a temporary fix of doing away with the symptoms for only a short time.
What Symptoms Can be Treated by Play Therapy for Children?
Play therapy for children has been effectively proven to help kids who have a multitude of mental health conditions and other issues as well. A therapist is able to use play therapy effectively with all ages of children and even adults.
Children with disorders like oppositional defiant problems or disorders of conduct can be taught to respectfully handle the emotions they have. Those with ADHD can learn to control energy and funnel it in a positive way.
Children who have anxiety disorders such as obsessive-compulsive issues learn ways they can become more confident so they can overcome the anxiety they feel. Children with disorders that hinder their development like Autism Spectrum can learn social skills they will especially need in order to care for themselves as adults.
Play therapy is very useful for children who are in an immediate crisis or have gone through an event that was traumatic. It is also therapeutic for those grieving the death of a family member or close friend or who are dealing with a divorce.
Children who have not been diagnosed with a problem but are exhibiting concerning symptoms like defiance, anxiety, social seclusion, anger, irrational fear, withdrawal, depression, issues communicating, or learning difficulties all tend to show major improvements in their ability to function after they have engaged in therapeutic play sessions.
How Can Play Therapy Help My Child?
In order for children to find true help in therapy, they need to learn to identify their emotions and discover how to process them in a productive and healthy manner. The same is true for adults in counseling but due to the fact that children are not able to do so as easily as adults, play therapy allows them to do so while playing because that is what kids do.
A child needs to apply the lessons they learn during therapy to the chaotic and messy life that lies outside the stress-free and safe therapeutic environment. For this to take place, they must actually be taught skills in such a way they have a clear understanding of them and repeatedly practice them until they become a good, constructive habit.
Play helps children learn skills, process emotions, and practice the skills. Through this, the things they learn produce long-lasting effects. Play is something children understand and while engaged in play, they have the ability to the acquire skills they will need as adults and able to put them into action.
What Long-Lasting Benefits Does Play Therapy Provide My Child?
Children who participate in therapeutic play experience numerous long-lasting beneficial effects. The therapy is able to help them build skills necessary for understanding their own emotions and the emotions of others, which can equip them to navigate through social situations, lessen anxiety, and acquire more confidence.
Children are also able to learn ways to process emotions in a productive and healthy manner rather than having outbursts of anger like throwing defiant tantrums. The act of play therapy helps children learn that everyone experiences emotions.
They are also able to learn ways to experience extreme feelings such as anger, but without hitting, throwing a temper tantrum, or yelling. Doing so is vital for building relationships with family members and in many other social settings later on.
Children are taught how to become responsible for their behaviors and ways to come up with healthy strategies to deal with emotions. Play teaches them how to nurture and exercise creative solutions in order to get through problems. This skill will carry over into adulthood so they can thrive in the workplace and in relationships.
Developing respect for others as well as themselves is a huge part of the therapy. They will learn ways to accept things they have no control over. The therapy provides an environment where children can learn to have respect and empathy for the feelings and thoughts of others.
Children will also develop confidence, which helps to assure they can be self-confident in their emotional growth and change. All of these skills and many more are learned through play therapy, providing them with the tools to become a successful adult.
How Does Play Therapy Benefit the Entire Family?
Play therapy can be of help to the whole family. The entire family reaps the benefits when a child learns skills that are necessary in order to become successful. When a child who has a tendency to throw tantrums learns control, the family unit experiences relief.
A child is greatly affected by the environment in which they live, so it only makes sense that, when in play therapy, the environment should change as well. The family unit makes up the environment the child is in most often. When the family learns to grow along with the child who is in therapy, miracles happen.
On the other hand, if the family is not willing to provide a conducive environment for the child’s improvement and growth, the child’s therapy progress may be slowed down considerably. It is in the best interest of all for everyone within the family unit to take an active part.
At least a period of 15 minutes a day of quality one-on-one play is recommended with each child in the family to promote healthy family relationships. Much can be learned and taught during this time together.
Parent-Child Interactive Therapy is a special form of play therapy that involves the child’s parent, or primary caregiver, engaging in playtime with the child while the counselor is teaching and guiding the caregiver to play. This technique helps the caregiver learn how to embrace play time to help the child develop independence, imagination, self-esteem, and more.
In addition, during play, parents learn ways to give commands and effective discipline in the event their command isn’t obeyed. These types of techniques encourage children to behave because they’ve learned to handle emotions and boundaries rather than out of fear.
When the same boundaries are set within the family, the effects are long-lasting for both the child and the family. Parents who participate and learn the skills of play are able to see improvements in the family bond such as a better response where obedience is concerned, lowered stress and chaos levels and more responsibility being taken on by the child.
Where Can I Find a Children’s Play Therapist in Los Angeles?
If you are seeking a play therapy counselor for your child, Los Angeles Christian Counseling is available for you. We also bring sound Christian faith, morals, and godly values into the therapeutic playtime. For a list of skilled play therapists at our facility, please check out our directory to find a counselor so you can start your child’s learning and healing process today.
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