Play Therapy is a form of Expressive Therapy that allows children and teens to explore their feelings, thoughts and behaviours in a safe and trusting play environment.
It is through play that children express themselves and start their healing process.
The Importance of Play Therapy
The child's play is a mirror of their life experiences and they often reveal a range of emotions and inner thoughts that are currently influencing their behaviour and affecting their development.
What's the Difference Between Regular Play and Play Therapy?
The difference between regular child's play and Play Therapy is that the Play Therapy is purposefully used as a clinical intervention to bring them to non-clinical levels of functioning.
It is a therapeutic intervention that uses toys to represent the child's words and worlds and their play as the communication. It is a language that brings their inner thoughts and emotions from the inside to the outside. Much in the same way adults do talk therapy, the children are similarly "talking through play". The therapist's job is to provide a safe, accepting, non-judgmental place for the child to express themselves freely as the therapist observes and reflects to the child what they see so the child can gain insight and self-awareness so they can integrate new information. The therapist also will teach skills, self-regulation and intervene in troubling play in a play-based way that the child understands
How Does Play Therapy Work?
(Information from Play Therapy International Website 2016)
Play Therapy provides a safe and inviting environment for children and teens to express their feelings and find ways to create play that resembles the stressful experiences they are struggling with internally with an accepting and supportive adult therapist. Play Therapy differs from regular play in that the therapist is trained to reflect the child's inner world, model self-regulation and help children feel empowered so they can address and resolve their issues in an effective way.
Play allows children a safe psychological distance from their challenges and allows them to express their true thoughts, feelings about their experiences in ways that are best suited for their developmental level. Play may also be used to promote cognitive and emotional development providing insight about inner conflicts or problematic thinking for children.
During Play Therapy, a wide variety of toys and artistic materials are available to help the child feel comfortable to use play as a means for communication between the child and therapist. Children are given the opportunity to express themselves through art, sand play, dramatic play, storytelling, musical play, puppets and fantasy play. Children will choose toys and activities to represent their feelings, or repressed urges and recreate their inner struggles. Because Play Therapy is child-directed, children can create therapeutic play at their developmental level and choose an appropriate pace to explore their struggles.
Research shows that when children are struggling, having a strong and supportive significant relationship with a healthy adult can greatly improve a child's self-esteem and resiliency. While children are greatly impacted and affected by family, teachers and friends, a Play Therapist has an important role in a child's healing and provides an objective view separate from family members. The positive and respectful relationship that develops between therapist and child provides a restorative emotional experience and serves to release the natural healing resources that lie within the child. This safe and understanding relationship allows children a sense of security when they are recreating emotionally stressful experiences.
By confronting their problems in this protected environment, children learn healthy expression of their emotions and needs. Children's play then evolves to where they gain empowerment and comfort, and they can re-establish a sense of themselves and well-being. Play Therapy allows children to change the way they think about and feel towards their issues, as well as assisting them in finding new coping strategies and creative solutions that work. Lasting resolutions are discovered, rehearsed and adapted into the child's life.
Synergetic Play Therapy
The central Play Therapy approach Cathy uses with children is Synergetic Play Therapy (SPT) and she is a Certified Synergetic Play Therapist. SPT is a stream of play therapy that is an effective, developmentally appropriate, evidence-based treatment for children. You can read details, including tenants and research about SPT here.
Although Synergetic Play Therapy® is a model of play therapy, it’s also a way of being in relationship with self and others.
It’s an all-encompassing paradigm that can be applied to any facet of life and, subsequently, any model of play therapy can be applied to it or vice versa. Synergetic Play Therapy® is both non-directive and directive in its application. The therapist is the most important toy in the playroom.
Toys are used to help facilitate:
The relationship between the child and his/her/their perceptions of the challenging experiences in his/her/their lives and
The relationship between the therapist and the child. SPT believes that the toys themselves are not as important as the energy and emotions that arise as a result of how the child is playing with them. In Synergetic Play Therapy’s (SPT) truest form, toys and language are not required.
SPT posits that the therapist’s ability to engage in mindfulness and model regulation of his/her/their own nervous system is the foundation for clients to learn how to manage his/her/their own nervous system. The therapist has to lead the way, just like a caregiver has to lead the way for an infant.
The therapist must work at the edge of the window of tolerance and the regulatory boundary of the dysregulated states inside both child and therapist in order to expand those boundaries and re-pattern the disorganization in the nervous system. A core principal of SPT is the therapist’s ability to be authentic and congruent in his/her/their expressions, coupled with the ability to co-regulate through the crescendos and decrescendos in the client’s arousal system (Shore, 2006), allowing the child to move towards the uncomfortable thoughts, emotions and sensations that are attempting to be integrated.
In SPT, the child’s symptoms are understood as symptoms of a dysregulated nervous system. These dysregulated states arise as a result of:
The perceived challenges and thoughts the child is having regarding the events in his/her/their life and
The child has lost attachment with him/ her/their self and is attempting to be someone they are not (acting from “shoulds”) instead of being who they truly are.
The result of Synergetic Play Therapy® is that the child heals from the inside out and from the lowest parts of the brain up.
“SPT has changed my life in a profound way. It has taught me to think differently about how to support children, how to be in relationship and how to think more critically about the world around me. But the most profound learning from SPT has been about myself: That I have worth and that I can walk this planet being fearlessly authentic.”
AMY BOBB, MA