I recently started working with a little boy who speaks Spanish exclusively in his home. When his mother called me to inquire about my services, she asked if I speak Spanish. When I questioned further about why she wanted to know, she informed me that he will probably say words in Spanish to me in the session. While I actually do speak Spanish, I told her that play therapy transcends language and culture and what is spoken is far less important than what is done.
Many studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of play therapy in any culture. Families with very diverse backgrounds, including different types of communication styles and level of comfort with conversation, have all proven play therapy to be helpful. Further, it has allowed for therapists trained in play therapy to effectively treat families from diverse cultural backgrounds, even without knowledge of other specific multicultural approaches.
Although almost any other type of therapy would require the therapist and the client speaking the same language, play therapy does not. Because play is a natural and instinctive trait in children, spoken language becomes less important in this approach. American therapists trained in play therapy have been able to travel to other countries in disaster relief without speaking the language and still offer mental health assistance to children through toy kits.
Play as Conversation
Another benefit of play therapy is that words are not necessary to gain benefits. Play therapy is rooted in the belief that children use play as their language and toys as their words. Therefore, everything is communicated through what takes place in the play room, rather than what conversations occur. Additionally, children are often unable to verbally articulate feelings, emotions, needs, wants, and desires well, so they allow the toys and their play to speak for them to a trained therapist.
Play therapy offers an effective intervention for children, as the child and therapist need only to have a room full of play toys to conduct a session. They do not need to speak the same language, come from the same culture, or even have a conversation for it to be helpful and beneficial. And for kids, whose world begins to make sense when they are engaged in play, it offers a safe and fun environment with a therapist who can understand what does not need to be spoken.