Temple University

School of Social Work

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Why Play Therapy

Children may not have the words that adults do to help themselves express their feelings. Many times children express their feelings in ways that adults find hard to understand. They may cry and withdraw. They may lash out at others, including schoolmates, siblings, and parents.

Play therapy has been used as a treatment of choice for young children since the early 1900´s. Play Therapy is implemented in mental health, school, agency, developmental, hospital, residential and recreational settings with clients of all ages (Carmichael, 2006, Reddy, Files-Hall & Schaefer, 2005). The field of play therapy has a history of more than 60 years of continuous research. The strength of play therapy research appears to
be in the history of and continued ability to conduct successful play therapy studies in natural real-world settings of schools, hospitals, clinics, and shelters.

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What is play therapy?

Play therapy is a technique used by trained play therapists to work with children in the language kids know best – the language of play. In the safety of the play room, children work through their issues with the toys they choose, innocently revealing their deepest wishes, fears, and hopes. Play is a means of testing, partly incorporating, and mastering external reality while providing a non threatening environment and a flexible atmosphere. Children are able to find out what the world is like, try on different roles, and cope with conflicting emotions. The therapist provides children with unconditional positive regard, while at the same time gently but firmly establishing limits within the structure of the play therapy session. This relationship allows children to develop trust, self confidence, and improved self worth.

There are many experiences in childhood in which children feel they have little or no control. Play is a child´s way of working out accompanying feelings of anxiety and fear and reestablishing some sense of balance and control in their lives, in an environment they can control. It is this sense or feeling of control, rather than actual control, which is essential to emotional development and positive mental health. The story can be what the child wants it to be. In the safety of play, the child can confront monsters, fantasy characters, and frightening experiences with real people and be in charge of the outcome. As children work through their issues in play, problematic symptoms decrease and improved coping is visible in their actions out of the play room, as children are able to express, control, and ultimately release powerful feelings.

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Who Practices Play Therapy

The practice of play therapy requires specialized education, training and experience. A play therapist is a licensed (or certified) mental health professional who has earned a master´s or doctorate degree in a mental health field, and who has gained considerable general clinical experience and supervision.

The Association for Play Therapy was established in 1982 to advance the goals of play therapy, and to register as play therapists those licensed mental health professionals who meet educational, experiential, and supervision standards. With advanced specialized training, experience, and supervision mental health professionals may earn the Registered Play Therapist (RPT) or Registered Play Therapist Supervisor (RPT-S) credentials conferred by the Association For Play Therapy (APT). For more information regarding credentialing please visit www.a4pt.org

By Jean Camberg, MSW, LCSW, RPT-S