What is Play therapy & How Can It Help?

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What is Play Therapy?

Has your child gone through something stressful or painful?  Do they act aggressively or irritable for no apparent reason?  Are they moody or tearful, sometimes to the point where nothing you do seems to help?  Have they been acting resistant, defiant, or rebellious?

No matter what you might try to do to help, things do not seem to get better.  Many children experience difficulties with their day-to-day activities in school, during family time, and in socializing with other children.  Sometimes these issues can develop suddenly after a stressful life event, although some difficulties can arise gradually over time.

Although most adults are able to talk through their difficulties and consciously address emotional problems, many children have not developed that level of awareness, insight, and communication skill.

This is why traditional talk therapy does not tend to work well with children.  Instead, many mental health professionals offer play therapy as a way to bridge the developmental gap.

Play therapy is a specialized form of treatment designed to help children process difficult emotions through both structured and unstructured play experiences.  Your child will meet one-on-one with a therapist to play games, draw and create artwork, and talk about his or her experiences.  Play therapy provides kids with a safe space to open up and express themselves without fear of punishment or judgement.

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How Does Play Therapy Work?

Play therapy relies heavily on three main components: free expression of thoughts, identification of emotion, and symbolic play. Over time, play therapy teaches children how to communicate their underlying struggles in ways that allow parents and professionals to help.

1

Free Expression of Thoughts

Sometimes children feel apprehensive about sharing some of their thoughts and feelings with family members. Play therapy provides a space for children to open up without the fear of what mom and dad might think about what they say. This promotes vulnerability and trust over time, allowing the child to begin to share with family members as well.
2

Emotional Identification

Few children are experts at naming their emotions. When you ask them how they feel, they often say “good,” “bad,” “hungry,” or “bored.” Play therapy experiences are often structured in a way to help children learn to describe complex feelings like guilt, apprehension, disgust, and solemnity. As your child learns how to name what they feel, you will be able to help them meet their needs.
3

Symbolic Play

Symbolic play is the crux of play therapy. Therapists will often use most of the session playing games or creating artwork with the child as a way to build trust and process difficult life experiences. The therapist might also invite the child to engage in unstructured play, with the therapist drawing attention to emotions the characters are experiencing and highlighting how the characters resolve problems or develop coping skills along the way. This helps the child process feelings at a comfortable distance through metaphor. If a child was physically harmed and traumatized, for example, the child will often naturally recreate what happened with toys as a means of processing the experience. The therapist can work with the child to talk about how the toy felt in that moment. This allows the child to work through painful memories with the support of an empathetic professional.

What Does Play Therapy Treat?

Play therapy is designed to help children work through a wide range of emotional difficulties.  Examples of this might include:

  • Divorce or separation in families
  • Trauma and abuse survival
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Issues with social skills
  • Aggression
  • Irritability or grouchiness
  • Parent-child issues (rebelliousness, disobedience, etc.)
  • ADHD (Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder)
  • Separation anxiety
  • Whining or bickering
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Pervasive fears or worries
  • And much, much more!

Do not wait for your child’s problems to resolve on their own.  Left untreated, emotional difficulties in childhood can lead to serious physical and mental health problems in adulthood.

If your child is struggling with any of these, let us help.  The team at Family Connections Therapy is here for you!

How Can Family Connections Therapy Help?

You do not have to do this alone.

Our team of dedicated counselors is here for you and your family.  We provide evidence-based and confidential psychotherapy services to kids, teens, adults, and families.  We provide Play Therapy services,  for children from all over the San Diego area.

For the first session, parents and children meet together with their therapist to get to know each other and identify goals for treatment.  As kids become more comfortable, they will begin meeting individually with the therapist for play therapy.  We highly value family involvement in our treatment, which means we include parents and often other family members to promote your child’s progress while at home.

Some difficulties go beyond what the child is struggling with, which is why we also offer Family Therapy services dedicated to helping the entire family system.

Here are some of the issues we have helped families work through:

  • Disobedience and rebelliousness
  • Managing feelings of anger and frustration
  • Loss of connection or engagement with family members
  • Parent-child difficulties
  • Breakdowns in communication
  • Traumatic life events (car accidents, health issues, violence, etc.)
  • Loss and grief
  • Addition of new family members
  • Divorce and separation

If you and your family have struggled with any of these difficulties, do not wait.  Contact Family Connections Therapy today and learn how we can help make things better.

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