What is Play Therapy?

We all know of that little pearl of wisdom that is shared when you have a problem; sleep on it and you’ll have your answer when wake up. That is a great analogy for defining what occurs for a client during a play therapy session. Throughout our lives, we are constantly experiencing different situations and making meaning of each one, based on previous learning and our interpretations of how we felt, looked, what was said and what was heard by each person involved.

Most of us believe that we are in control of these feelings and thoughts but the reality is that the subconscious mind is actually underpinning all of our conscious thoughts and beliefs. During infancy and early childhood children are almost totally dependent on adults to meet their basic needs. As they are met, positive neural pathways are being formed in the brain. The security of feeling loved love promotes healthy growth and development both physically and emotionally.

However, when a very young child experiences trauma, the developing neural pathways in the brain are disrupted, causing negative messages to repeatedly loop. In turn, this can lead to disruptive, anxious or challenging behaviours that may seem to have no rhyme or reason because they are stored in the subconscious brain. A range of therapies can alleviate severe traumatisation – but what makes play therapy different is the unique way that the brain is naturally stimulated as the child plays.

Damaged neural pathways can become repaired as the child resolves their external experiences, internally and positive behavioural change becomes possible. One of the main tools in the playroom is the sand tray, which represents both the conscious mind and the subconscious mind simultaneously.

The action of the child sweeping, moulding or running their hands and fingers through the sand enables them to sort through their thoughts and feelings in a physical sense, much the same way our brains sort our everyday life events as we sleep at night. The sessions are child directed, meaning they make the choices about how and what they choose to play with.

The therapist’s role is to assist the child by being present and guiding them with a few limits to keep the space emotionally safe. A play therapist may see a child for play therapy for conditions including anxiety, bullying, divorce or death of a loved one or many other challenges.

Usually the child sees a therapist in a 1:1 situation but sometimes they may see siblings together or offer sessions with children experiencing similar symptoms. Often times the parents of children who seek play therapy might feel confronted by the memories of their own childhood.

To this end, it can become an experience for the whole family to achieve peace and resolution with the hope for a more positive outlook on the future.

A complimentary 30-minute consultation is available.

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