Why Play Therapy?

November 2, 2021
Photo of a little girl playing with building blocks

Little girl playing with building blocks

There are so many reasons why I love play therapy. Where do I begin? Play is essential and inherent to children. Play is also essential to brain development. Play is an internal regulator for a child. What does that mean? That means play can mitigate emotional dysregulation and disruptive behavior. Play assists children with developing more innate coping skills through curiosity, discovery, and movement. Play is curative. Play is how children discover and communicate their world. A child’s behavior is his/her voice of an unmet need — emotionally or physically. As play therapists, we are able to enter a child’s world with awe and curiosity. We are sensitive to their time in the world. They are children. They belong to a culture of their own. We need to honor where they are in their time.

Let me explain what play therapy is and what play therapy is not. Play therapy is an empirically supported treatment modality that is grounded in the most well-known, most well-respected (globally), and most effective theoretical models that are the fundamental bedrock of mental health around the world. So, what does that mean? Simply stated, play therapy is not picking up a game and integrating into a therapy session without an intentional therapeutic framework to guide and support our young clients. Bringing toys and games into a therapy or counseling session is not play therapy. Not being formally trained in play therapy opens opportunities for mental health providers to operate from an adaptive adult-centric skill set. This means, oftentimes, mental health providers are not well-trained in the chronological and developmental stages of childhood. Mental health providers should not adapt adult models in their work with children. Mental health providers who adapt adult-centric models for children have the potential to marginalize children based on adult-centric mental health modalities. A play therapist will see each child as unique and tailor interventions to the child’s needs, recognizing that each child has his/her own developmental pathway. Play therapy uses both concrete theories and concrete techniques that facilitate curative features in therapeutic relationships. A play therapist will honor the child’s world to ensure the most ethical, developmentally, and age appropriate techniques are implemented.

As the newly appointed president of the North Carolina Association for Play Therapy, my hope is to continue to create awareness and the advancement for ethically, age-appropriate, culturally-appropriate, and developmentally-appropriate treatment for children, teens, families, and communities.

To learn more about Play Therapy or to find a Registered Play Therapist, please visit The Association for Play Therapy (APT), which is a national professional organization in the United States, that grants Registered Play Therapists (RPT) and Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor ( RPT-S) credentials to licensed mental health professionals with specialized training and experience in play therapy.