One of the first questions I generally get asked when parents bring their children in for therapy is, So, what do you actually do with them? or What is the point of just playing with my child? In any type of therapeutic relationship, one of the first steps is to connect on the client’s level. In the case of children, this often results in some sort of playing, whether it be a game, Legos, puzzles, coloring, imaginative play or any of the other thousands of ways children like to interact.
Play Therapy often has much less to do with the activity and more to do with the relationship that is being built. For many children, they do not have safe adults they can interact with. If a child is coming in for treatment it generally means that there is something happening in their life they do not know how to handle. Most children, and adults for that matter, don’t know how to actually verbalize and talk about how they are feeling, what they are thinking and how they can cope with situations in their life. Play Therapy allows the therapist to interact with the child on their level, which often opens the door for children to tell the therapist what is going on through the pictures they color, the scenarios they create for games, and the characters they create. Giving a child something to do also puts them at ease, normalizing the office they are in and helps them relate more freely with the therapist.
Therapy is about so much more than just talking about your problems, getting advice and learning how to be healthy. It is also about learning how to develop relationships. The relationship you build with a counselor can often help you learn how to trust, become vulnerable with other people, care about yourself and care about others. This is essential for adults, as well as children. For many of us there have been key people in our lives that have helped us learn how to cope with life. We can often look back on those relationships and say, yes, this person cared about me. If we are honest with ourselves, it is often these relationships that have created a foundation for the way we interact with people in general. For some of us those people have been family members, friends, neighbors and teachers. For others, those people are therapists. Play therapy gives us a way to relate with children and help them form those relationships where they know they are cared for, listened to, and above all, important.