Play Therapy FAQ
What is play therapy?
Play Therapy is defined by APT 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."
How is play therapy different from regular play?
Play Therapy isn’t Just Play
Play Therapy is not the same as regular, everyday play. While spontaneous play is a natural and essential part of the developmental process, Play Therapy is a systematic and therapeutic approach. Play Therapists are licensed mental health professionals with extensive training, supervision, and education in Play Therapy. Play Therapy incorporates a growing number of evidence-based practices and techniques (SAMSHA, 2014), and should only be utilized by specially trained mental health professionals.
While some Play Therapists do not possess a specialized Play Therapy credential, a Registered Play Therapist (RPT), Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor (RPT-S), or School Based-Registered Play Therapist (SB-RPT) are those professionals who have met the stringent standards set by APT to become a credentialed Play Therapist. Ask to see the Play Therapist's certificate that he or she meets the requirements and is in good standing with the Association for Play Therapy.
The following are some of the many benefits of play that have been described by play theorists.
Play is the child's language and ...
Play is a fun, enjoyable activity that elevates our spirits and brightens our outlook on life. It expands self-expression, self-knowledge, self-actualization and self-efficacy. Play relieves feelings of stress and boredom, connects us to people in a positive way, stimulates creative thinking and exploration, regulates our emotions, and boosts our ego (Landreth, 2002). In addition, play allows us to practice skills and roles needed for survival. Learning and development are best fostered through play (Russ, 2004).
Why Play in Therapy?
Play therapy is a structured, theoretically based approach to therapy that builds on the normal communicative and learning processes of children (Carmichael, 2006; Landreth, 2002; O'Connor & Schaefer, 1983). The curative powers inherent in play are used in many ways. Therapists strategically utilize play therapy to help children express what is troubling them when they do not have the verbal language to express their thoughts and feelings (Gil, 1991). In play therapy, toys are like the child's words and play is the child's language (Landreth, 2002). Through play, therapists may help children learn more adaptive behaviors when there are emotional or social skills deficits (Pedro-Carroll & Reddy, 2005). The positive relationship that develops between therapist and child during play therapy sessions can provide a corrective emotional experience necessary for healing (Moustakas, 1997). Play therapy may also be used to promote cognitive development and provide insight about and resolution of inner conflicts or dysfunctional thinking in the child (O'Connor & Schaefer, 1983; Reddy, Files-Hall, & Schaefer, 2005).
How May My Family Be Involved in Play Therapy?
Families play an important role in children's healing processes. The interaction between children's problems and their families is always complex. Sometimes children develop problems as a way of signaling that there is something wrong in the family. Other times the entire family becomes distressed because the child's problems are so disruptive. In all cases, children and families heal faster when they work together.
The play therapist will make some decisions about how and when to involve some or all members of the family in the play therapy. At a minimum, the therapist will want to communicate regularly with the child's caretakers to develop a plan for resolving problems as they are identified and to monitor the progress of the treatment. Other options might include involving a) the parents or caretakers directly in the treatment by modifying how they interact with the child at home and b) the whole family in family play therapy (Guerney, 2000). Whatever the level of involvement of the family members, they typically play an important role in the child's healing (Carey & Schaefer, 1994; Gil & Drewes, 2004).
Who Practices Play Therapy?
The practice of play therapy requires extensive specialized education, training, and experience. A play therapist is a licensed mental health professional who has earned a Master's or Doctorate degree in a mental health field with considerable general clinical experience and supervision.
With advanced, specialized training, experience, and supervision, mental health professionals may also earn the Registered Play Therapist (RPT), Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor (RPT-S) or School Based-Registered Play Therapist (SB-RPT) credentials¹ conferred by the Association for Play Therapy (APT).