Play therapy is generally employed with children aged 3 through 11 and provides a way for them to express their experiences and feelings through a natural, self-guided, self-healing process. As children’s experiences and knowledge are often communicated through play, it becomes an important vehicle for them to know and accept themselves and others. This approach is common to young children.
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. Caution, however, should be taken when using play therapy for assessment and/or diagnostic purposes.
According to the psychodynamic view, people (especially children) will engage in play behavior in order to work through their interior obfuscations and anxieties. According to this particular viewpoint, play therapy can be used as a self-help mechanism, as long as children are allowed time for “free play” or “unstructured play.” However, some forms of therapy depart from non-directivness in fantasy play, and introduce varying amounts of direction, during the therapy session.
An example of a more directive approach to play therapy, for example, can entail the use of a type of desensitization or relearning therapy, to change troubling behaviors, either systematically or through a less structured approach. The hope is that through the language of symbolic play, such desensitization will likely take place, as a natural part of the therapeutic experience, and lead to positive treatment outcomes.