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What happens in the Play Therapy room?

(and how it differs to playing at home or with peers)

The play room is unique space. It allows the child freedom to safely test boundaries and be in the control seat in a room full of toys. This can sound counterproductive to parents at first. Why would I allow my child who already has issues with challenging behaviours, control based anxiety and poor ability to follow instructions to be in the control seat of a therapy session? Don’t they need more structure and a lesson in compliance? Shouldn’t you be teaching them something?
Children do need structure, and they definitely need an adult to guide them in responsible and safe ways of being, along the way ;learning what it means to follow societal rules and expectations.  Similar to learning how to drive, there is only so much we can learn  through someone explaining how to do it. Without experiencing actually driving there are many skills we couldn’t learn. 
This is especially true of children and adolescents, it’s hard to learn the “logical reasoning” part of their brain is yet to develop fully. Experiential learning is held elsewhere in the brain, so the Play room is a great space for learning what can happen when big feelings or challenges arise. 

By allowing the child the opportunity to test the boundaries in a non judgmental space in the play room, and by allowing the child to direct the play and the play therapist to do things their way, the child is able to experience the world as they see it, with someone right there with them on their level. They have the ability to “practice” the skills of emotional regulation and limit setting in an environment that is set up just for that. 
There are no expectations (except for keeping themselves safe), no rules or steps to follow, they are free to act out their inner feelings, free to play out and make sense of things that they’ve been holding onto. Free to be exactly how they need to be in that moment. 

The play therapist will model emotional regulation in their own reactions in the play, allowing the child to see what it looks like to name an emotion or develop healthy relationships. Eg “Emma, I got such a freight just now when you yelled, I can feel my heart beating faster and my hands are closed shut very tightly.” Or “I can see you need to yell very loud Emma to show me how angry you are feeling, I wonder if it would still feel the same if you yelled somewhere that wasn’t so close to my ear? Do you remember one of the rules was to keep each other safe? That didn’t feel safe for me.”
The therapist may place limits if safety becomes a concern, eg: “Ryan, I can see that when you are the King you feel you need to be up very high, the book shelf isn’t for climbing, we need to keep each other safe, but because we are in the playroom and the rules are a little bit different to at home, you can stand on the couch in here.”
Though for the most part the child is directing the play, directing the therapist to be just as they want them to be, putting in rules that make sense to them, they are setting up their world to be how they want it, they are story telling, letting go of emotions and experiences that have been confusing for them, they are trying to be heard in their own language, that is the language of play.  


Is my child too young or too old for Play Therapy?

A little like the LEGO box says, you can and should be playing up to 99 years of age and beyond. 
There is no “too young” or “too old” when it comes to Play Therapy.  
Our Clinicians have a range of skills and qualifications to support play through the life span. 
We work with infants, alongside parents.
We work with toddlers, preschool age children, primary school kids, secondary aged and older teens. 
We even have therapists trained to support Adults in play based therapies. 


What can Play Therapy help my child with? 

In play therapy, toys are like the child's words and play is the child's language (Landreth, 2002).
Therefore, play therapy gives children a language to communicate feelings or concepts that they are not able to cognitively grasp fully due to age or medical conditions, neurodiversities or trauma.

Play therapy benefits seen in children and adolescents include:

  • Social skill development
  • Separation anxieties 
  • Sibling rivalry and challenging dynamics
  • anxiety  and anxiety disorders
  • obsessive-compulsive disorders
  • depression
  • Impulse control and attention deficit hyperactivity
  • autism spectrum
  • oppositional defiant and conduct disorders
  • anger management
  • trauma, including PTSD
  • grief and loss
  • school refusal
  • self harm behaviours
  • Eating disorders
  • Selective Mutism
  • changes in family dynamics- such as new sibling, separation, divorce
  • social skills developmental
  • and in supporting times of transition - school transition, family relocation
  • trauma related distress


Is it evidence-based?

It sure is! We adhere to Evidence Based Practice to enable consistent and quality supports for all clients Evidence Based Practice also allows clients who meet the individual requirements of funding bodies to be by supports such as NDIS, DHHS, Orange Door (Previously Child First), Berry Street, VACCA, Anglicare and others. 
There have been many studies supporting the use of Play Therapy for supporting Autism /ASD, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyspraxia, Cerebral palsy, Global Development Delay, Emotional concerns, stress, Emotional Regulation, Depression, Anxiety, Eating Disorders, Family Violence, Trauma and Abuse, Family breakdowns, Emotional impacts of Physical illnesses and conditions. 


Is Structured Play Just as Important as Free Play?

Both are important and have their place, I may be bias, but if you ask which I find most important for children and also teens,  it is free play. 
 Structured play, or "play with a purpose," is any activity that offers your child or teen a specific learning objective. It will usually be Parent or adult lead. It sets out expectations, a skill to be learnt. This is important for kids in learning. We know maths theories are easier understood if we use games to reinforce the learning. 
Board games, Puzzles, following Lego Instructions and team sports are all examples of structured play. 
All structured play, always aiming for a goal at the end of the play can impede the child’s natural curiosty, it doesn’t promote great problem solving skills or imagination and it doesn’t help facilitate skills in social interactions, improvisation, flexibility, following a passion or creative pursuit. 

Free play is where the child plays without an expectation for a product at the end. There is no set structure EG: It is not “Let’s have five turns each and then we will draw a picture of what we did.” It is simply allowing the child to bring their inner world to the outer world, it allows the child to connect with the outer world, inviting other children into their understandings and ideas.  Free play allows the child to take risks and build confidence, it allows them to have a deeper confidence in their own abilities and ideas, it creates new neural pathways in the brain allowing “faster” and more indepth learning and motor skills, new understandings. 
It helps to develop emotional regulation, social skills, language and cognitive development. Free play allows children to dispel fears and conquer worries, it allows them to feel powerful. 
Children need to have access to free play. When there are mud pies, unplanned puddle stomping, cardboard box forts, lego with no instructions, mixed playdough colours, burying feet in the sand pit, finger painting that turns into hand and arm painting, new music being created, and all those magical unplanned moments; you will see new ideas grow, new skills learnt, little people feeling like giants, confidence beaming. That, in my eyes, is supporting children to grow in ways structured play can’t quite reach. 

Read more about our Play Therapy Theoretical Framework here…
Child-Centered Play Therapy: Integrating Interpersonal Neurobiology with Attachment Theory through Play
Play therapy is a powerful, evidence-based method of therapeutically working with children through exploring and joining their innate, creative, and non-verbal capacities. Landreth (2012) defines play therapy as:
… a dynamic interpersonal relationship between a child (or person of any age) and a therapist…who provides selected play materials and facilitates the development of a safe relationship for the child ... to fully express and explore self (feelings, thoughts, experiences, and behaviours) through play, the child's natural medium of communication, for optimal growth and development. (p. 11) 
In child-centered play therapy (CCPT), a non-directive approach is used by play therapists with children who are experiencing social, emotional, behavioural, or relational difficulties. This form of play therapy was originally developed by Virginia Axline in the mid-20th century, with a strong influence by the person-centered approach of Carl Rogers (1961). The focus and goal of CCPT is to allow children to feel safe and comfortable to explore their concerns through creative play and a trusted relationship. The therapist does not direct, shape, or lead the child’s expression or behaviour, rush the therapeutic process, or set limits until required (Axline, 1989). In this way, the CCPT approach allows children to develop a warm, caring, and accepting relationship with the therapist, enabling them to express any emotion and gain insight. In forming a therapeutic relationship between a child and therapist, CCPT combines IPNB science with attachment theory to foster a child’s development of secure, interpersonal relationships to allow for healing and growth.
To read more about Play Educate’s CCPT services, and how this therapeutic method may be beneficial for your child, please click here. If you would like to know more about developing a secure relationship and attachment with your child, please click here to see our Parenting Support services .

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