Play therapy – can it help?

Play therapy – can it help?

Through play therapy emotionally disturbed children are encouraged to act out their fantasies and express their feelings, thus helping them deal with their challenges.

The demands of modern life play havoc not only on adults, but also on children who have to deal with a legion of pressures that can present some children with psychological challenges.  Play therapy is coming to the fore more and more as an effective way to help children deal with and cope with their challenges and live well-adjusted lives.

What is play therapy?

Play therapy is an approach used by counsellors and therapists to help children and adolescents who face emotional, psychosocial and behavioural difficulties to explore their feelings, emotions, thoughts and needs. This enables them to better understand feelings, emotions or events that have been upsetting or traumatising. It also enables them to understand and control their emotions and develop ways to express these in constructive and acceptable ways. Each child is allowed to do this at his or her own pace.

Why use play as a therapy?

Through play, children learn the skills they need to participate in the world and in life; through play they get to engage in meaningful activities that enhance all aspects of their development: physical, social, and cognitive and language development. By playing, children learn to relate to the world and the people around them. It is therefore the perfect channel to tap into the child’s world.

How does it work?

Play therapy is centred around a relationship of trust between the child and the therapist. An environment is created where the child feels safe and secure. The therapist follows the child’s lead, and through watching which toys the child picks and how he or she chooses to play or uses art materials the therapist can get a window on the child’s feelings and emotions. This allows the therapist to help the child to develop strategies to cope with lifes challenges and to overcome situations that the child finds uncomfortable or challenging.’

A play therapy session lasts between 30 and 45 minutes. Sessions can be individual or in a group environment.

Who/what can it help?

A very large range of challenges can be effectively addressed through play therapy. These include:

    • Self-esteem issues
    • Aggression
    • Excessive sadness, worry, fear, anger or shyness
    • Friendship and social adjustment difficulties
    • ADD and ADHD
    • Trauma, grief and loss
    • Chronic illness
    • Abuse
    • Selective mutism
    • Near-death experiences
    • Adjustment to changing family situations following divorce
    • Mild autism.




(Revised by M van Deventer)