Play Therapy

Play therapy is a form of counseling or psychotherapy that uses play to communicate with and help people, especially children, to prevent or resolve psychosocial challenges. This is thought to help them towards better social integration, growth and development, emotional modulation, and trauma resolution. Play therapy can also be used as a tool of diagnosis. A play therapist observes a client playing with toys (play-houses, pets, dolls, etc.) to determine the cause of the disturbed behavior. The objects and patterns of play, as well as the willingness to interact with the therapist, can be used to understand the underlying rationale for behavior both inside and outside of therapy session.1 The Association for Play Therapy 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.”

More simply put, child play therapy is a way of being with the child that honors their unique developmental level and looks for ways of helping in the “language” of the child – play. Licensed mental health professionals therapeutically use play to help their clients, most often children ages three to twelve years, to better express themselves and resolve their problems.2 Therapeutic play, (including play therapy), is a well established discipline based upon a number of psychological theories. Research, both qualitative and quantitative shows that it is highly effective in many cases. Recent research by Play Therapy UK, an organization affiliated to Play Therapy International, suggests that 71% of the children referred to play therapy will show a positive change.3


  1. Paulina F. Kernberg; Saralea E. Chazan; Lina Normandin (1998). “The Children’s Play Therapy Instrument (CPTI): Description, Development, and Reliability Studies”. The Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research. 7 (3): 196–207. PMC 3330503Freely accessible. PMID 9631341
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