Play is one of the primary activities of childhood. It is important for children's physical, social and emotional learning and development. Play therapy is the use of play situations in a therapeutic setting. Whereas most adults may find relief in talking over problems, children often have difficulty in expressing thoughts and feelings in words, and play can serve as a medium for them to express themselves. Children are seen in a therapeutic playroom where toys and materials have been selected to encourage expressive play through activities such as artwork, playing with dolls, puppets, using play-dough or small figurines in a sand tray, making a video and role-playing. Play can be used as a window to observe and assess the child and as a door to open and enter for intervention.
Therapists may use non-directive play to build therapeutic rapport and then direct the therapy towards specified goals through focused intervention (Cunningham and Rasmussen, 1995), e.g. problem solving, working through confusion, dealing with worries, releasing inner trauma. Play therapy is best carried out in conjunction with the broader goals of family therapy (Macdonald, Lambie & Simmonds, 1996). The therapist wants to work with family members' concerns, regularly reviewing progress and assisting family members to facilitate positive change.
Play Therapy uses a variety of play and creative arts techniques to address chronic, mild and moderate psychological and emotional conditions in children that are causing behavioural problems and/or are preventing children from realising their potential. The Play Therapist uses a wide range of play and creative arts techniques, responding to the child's wishes. This distinguishes the Play Therapist from more specialised therapists (Art, Music, Drama etc) and from those using therapeutic play skills.
The Play Therapist forms a short to medium term therapeutic relationship and often works systemically taking into account and perhaps dealing with the social environment of the clients (peers, siblings, family, school etc). Clinical supervision is essential.
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