Many parents who meet with me have never had their kids in counseling. They have never gone through the process of selecting a therapist. Never had to look at all of the options and determine what might be the best fit for their child and their situation. In fact, most have never even heard of play therapy.
So, as they sit in my office wondering what play therapy is and how it might help their kids, I find that explaining the magic of play therapy to parents is sometimes easier when I describe the outcomes that they can expect. Here are the five most commonly observed benefits of play therapy:
Self-Esteem and Self-Worth
Kids are constantly trying to prove themselves; to themselves and to others. Often when they feel that they fall short of expectations, they try to compensate by grasping at power, demanding control, or losing control with angry outbursts. Through play therapy, they learn that failure is necessary, it does not define them, and they are able to accept each part of themselves.
No matter what circumstances the child faces, and regardless of whether the situation can or will change, children build resilience and coping skills through the process of playing through negative situations. They can rewrite their story, create a different ending, or process the situation to prove to themselves that they can handle anything.
Kids do not have the capacity to understand emotions fully until adolescence and it only comes with the practice of understanding and identifying feelings. During the play therapy process, exploration of emotions and the therapeutic processing of those feelings helps the child build an emotional vocabulary allowing them to better label and communicate their emotions.
Awareness of Capabilities
There are very few places that kids can test themselves and determine of what they are capable without negative repercussions. A play room affords a child the safe place to fail without consequences. They will create challenges for themselves and continue to work until they are able to accomplish the task or achieve the goal, building self-awareness.
Kids will often struggle to control their behavior until they learn effective ways to communicate and alternate ways to express their feelings. Play allows them to test boundaries, limits, and rules without fear of punishment in a safe environment. Through this process of self-discovery, they practice self-control and begin to regulate their own behaviors.
Without the experience of seeing a play room in person, understanding what toys serve what purposes, and awareness of the therapeutic skills involved, it is hard to conceive of how a child playing in a play room can heal, grow, and change for the better. But, it happens, and these are five of the most common outcomes, among many others!