Play Therapy


What is Play Therapy? An intervention designed to help children develop and be well-adjusted and happy, play therapy creates a safe environment for children to express themselves, explore, try new things, learn to solve problems, learn about social rules, change negative behaviors, and more. Play therapy can be one-on-one, in small groups, or involve members of the family.

Benefits of Therapeutic Play

How can therapeutic play help children? Some of the known benefits of play therapy include:

  • Express thoughts and feelings
  • Develop physical skills
  • Develop cognitive skills
  • Develop social skills
  • Develop language skills
  • Develop emotional awareness
  • Form meaningful bonds
  • Learn about the world
  • Understand how things work

Why Play Therapy Works

Play, “the language of childhood,” offers adults greater insight into children’s thoughts, feelings, struggles, and motivations than talking to them. Moreover, play is an essential element of healthy child development and a great way for adults to build stronger relationships with kids. According to research, over 70% of children who engage in play therapy demonstrate positive changes.

Conditions Helped by Play Therapy

Research shows positive effects of play therapy for children with:

  • Disruptive Behaviors
  • D.H.D.
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Conduct Disorder
  • Adjustment Disorder
  • Bullying
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • And more

Play Therapy Tools

Some of the therapeutic tools and mediums used by play therapists include:

  • Drama
  • Role Play
  • Puppets
  • Masks
  • Toys
  • Story Telling
  • Sand Box/Sand Table
  • Clay
  • Artwork
  • Music
  • Dance/Movement

Play Therapy History

The theoretical underpinnings of play therapy date back millennium, beginning with Plato and beyond:

  • Plato (429 – 347 B.C.): “You can discover more about a human being in an hour of play than a year of conversation”
  • Sigmund Freud, the first child therapist to prescribe play
  • Anna Freud (1928), who used play to replace talk therapy, recognizing that children require a different mode of therapy than adults and that therapists can gain greater access to children’s inner world during play
  • Margaret Lowenfeld (1935), a child psychiatrist who introduced the Sand Tray, which she called World Play
  • David Levy (1930s) who used toys and play therapy to help children relive traumatic events and release negative emotions
  • Carl Rogers (1940s) who introduced child-centered therapy, viewing the child-therapist relationship as a catalyst to healing
  • Buck’s House-Tree-Person Technique, introduced in 1949
  • Virgina Axline (1970s), who introduced non-directive play therapy and eight principals of therapeutic relationships
  • Garry Landreth, author of the Bible of Play Therapy and supporter of a non-directive play therapy approach with children
  • Gove Hambridge, who introduced Structured Play Therapy
  • Filial Therapy (1960s), teaching parents and caregivers how to use child-centered play therapy at home
  • School Based Play Therapy, where school counselors are encouraged to use play therapy to help children with emotional issues

The Association for Play Therapy

The Association for Play Therapy (APT), established inĀ 1982, promotes “the value of play and play therapy to help clients resolve or prevent psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.”

It promotes effective practice of play therapy through research, education and training and offers courses for credentialed play therapists.

Other play therapy organizations include:

  • Play Therapy International
  • United Kingdom Society for Play and Creative Arts Therapies (PTUK)
  • Canadian Play Therapy Institute
  • British Association of Play Therapist (BAPT)
  • Georgia Play Therapy Institute