Child & Play Therapy

About Play Therapy

Play therapy builds on the natural way that children learn about themselves and their relationships in the world around them. Initially developed at the turn of the 20th century, current approaches to play therapy rely on structured, theoretically sound models of therapy that builds on the normal communicative and learning processes of children.

The Association for Play Therapy (APT) defines play therapy as… “the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.” Play therapy differs from typical “play” activities as the therapist is trained to help the child address and work through troublesome feelings or experiences. The use of play-based activities provides the child with psychological distance from their problems. By exploring feelings or problems in the safety and structure of the play therapy setting, the child finds healthier solutions. Further, the play process allows expression of thoughts and feelings appropriate to the child’s development. Through the play therapy process, the child develops the sense that she/he can safely communicate and express feelings, while learning a variety of ways of coping and relating to others.

The positive relationship that develops between the therapist and child can provide an emotional experience that scaffolds and supports the child in the healing process. Importantly, play therapy may also be used to promote problem-solving skills and cognitive development, and to provide understanding or insight necessary to resolve inner conflicts.

For more information on the history, use and professional application of Play Therapy visit The Association for Play Therapy website.

Play Therapy Makes a Difference

Effectiveness of Play Therapy

As noted by the Association for Play Therapy, play therapy treatment plans have been used either as the primary intervention or as an adjunctive therapy to address a wide range of presenting issues. Research supports the effectiveness of play therapy with children experiencing social, emotional, behavioral, and learning problems.

Frequent positive outcomes for children engaged in play therapy include:

  • Developing more successful coping strategies.
  • Learning alternate ways of expressing troublesome emotions.
  • Developing empathy and respect for thoughts and feelings of others.
  • Learning new interpersonal skills that can be used with peers or family members.
  • Developing self-efficacy and confidence in their abilities.

Two frequently cited studies conducted a meta-analytic review of over 100 play therapy outcome studies (Leblanc & Ritchie, 2001; Bratton, et. al., 2005). Both sets of researchers found that the over-all treatment effect of play therapy ranges from moderate to high positive effects. Notably, positive treatment effects were found to be greatest when a parent was actively involved in the child's treatment.

Play therapy is especially appropriate for children ages 3 through 12 years old. Teens and adults have also benefited from play-based techniques, although the strategies and methods are appropriately adapted to meet the developmental/emotional needs of the individual.

Preparing Children for Therapy Services

The purpose of the initial parent intake meeting is to gather relevant information about your child and family, and to discuss ways of introducing the counselling process to your child. Depending on the age of the child, and the accompanying concerns, there are various ways to convey to the child that that this will be a supportive experience. For example, one might emphasize the fun or “playful” nature of the setting (e.g., access to play rooms). The clinician’s role might also be identified as someone who is there to help everyone, including parents, gather “ideas” on how to manage certain “tricky ” feelings or problems. Above all, the clinician’s role is to act as a consultant to parents, particularly during the initial steps of the counselling process. Accordingly, the therapist is there to share ideas and impart a developmental perspective, keeping in mind the child’s age and stage of development, and the type of the support and preparation necessary to help him/her feel comfortable meeting with the counsellor.

RMPTI Interview Series

Interview with the Directors of Rocky Mountain Play Therapy Institute, Lorri Yasenik and Ken Gardner, international trainers in play therapy.

An Overview of Play Therapy

Dr. Nick Cornett