Play therapy is a powerful, evidence-based treatment that harnesses the natural language of children: play. Think of play as a window into a child’s world where they express their emotions, process their experiences, and live out their truth. Play therapy can help build a bridge of understanding between the child's inner experience and everything else on the outside.
Play therapy is grounded in the understanding that play is not only a fundamental aspect of children’s development but also a valuable therapeutic tool. 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 that uses play to encourage children to safely explore their emotions, process challenging experiences, and practice new skills.
I use both Child-Centered Play Therapy and Prescriptive Play Therapy approaches, depending on each child’s unique needs and therapeutic goals.
Child-Centered Play Therapy (CCPT) is a non-directive play therapy approach that empowers children to explore their feelings, thoughts, and experiences in their own way and at their own pace. It’s based on the belief that children have an innate capacity for growth and healing when provided with a safe, nurturing, and accepting environment.
CCPT draws from the principles of Person-Centered Therapy, emphasizing the importance of the client’s self-direction and the therapist’s unconditional acceptance and empathy. CCPT focuses on the whole person of the child rather than on a specific problem or issue.
The special relationship between the therapist and client provides a safe, consistent therapeutic environment in which the child can experience full acceptance, empathy, and understanding. This therapeutic partnership opens a child’s potential to move toward regulation, integration, and healing. When the therapist demonstrates genuine care and acceptance of the child, regardless of their behavior or emotional state, it helps the child feel valued and understood, fostering a sense of safety and trust. When the therapist validates the child’s feelings, thoughts, and experiences in a non-judgmental manner, it helps the child feel understood, trust their experience, and develop self-awareness.
CCPT is child-directed, which means that the therapist doesn’t set an agenda and allows the child to determine the direction of each session. The child’s role is to explore, express, experience, and experiment. The therapist’s role is to support and facilitate the child’s process by holding space and providing a judgment-free, emotionally-safe, therapeutic environment.
In a CCPT session, the therapist provides a range of toys and materials that encourage self-expression and emotional exploration. The selection typically includes items such as dolls, art supplies, sand trays, and various props that facilitate imaginative play. The therapist creates a non-judgmental and permissive environment, allowing the child to explore and express their emotions freely.
Throughout the session, the therapist demonstrates understanding through active listening, reflecting the child's feelings and underlying themes back to them. This reflection helps the child gain insight into their emotions and promotes self-awareness.
Child-Centered Play Therapy is a powerful modality that can help children with many emotional, behavioral, and developmental challenges. CCPT is especially well-suited for helping children experience and express emotions, develop responsibility and independence, cultivate empathy and self-compassion, strengthen their sense of self, and heal from stressful and traumatic experiences.
Prescriptive Play Therapy is typically more directive, or therapist-led. Prescriptive Play Therapy blends the core tenets of child-centered play therapy with other therapeutic modalities including Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapy, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Ecosystemic Play Therapy, attachment interventions, expressive arts activities, therapeutic games, skills training, and play-based techniques.