What is Play Therapy?

I invite you to think of the word “play”. Maybe you are thinking of summer days as a child, frolicking through the grass chasing your opponent in a game of tag. Perhaps you are brushing your baby doll’s hair while voicing as its caretaker in the world of make-believe. Whatever your description is, you probably are not considering how therapy and healing have a unique place within this sacred experience of play.

Play therapy is defined by the Association for Play Therapy as “the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development”. Now, let’s break this down. A child aged 11 years or younger does not yet have the ability for abstract thought. This means that they cannot fully express themselves through words. Instead, they typically express themselves through play and other types of activity.

Play allows for a child to explore and process emotions, connect with their world, and engage in metaphorical storytelling.  It provides a window to their inner experience. This allows the therapist to understand a child’s underlying struggles, learned coping, behavioral patterns, and so on. Simply put, play therapy is meeting children where they are at within their developmental stages. Thus, allowing them to naturally express themselves in a way that is vitally important for development and emotion regulation.

How Play Affects the Brain

Furthermore, let me briefly explain play’s neurobiology to drive home its efficacy. Through play, when children engage in nonverbal storytelling they are bringing their implicit memories into explicit, or conscious, memory. While the child continues to process through play, the therapist reflects on these experiences. The child is then able to find the language to better understand the story they embody. Furthermore, play promotes the ability for vertical and bilateral integration of their growing brains.

Through connecting emotionally with the child and cognitively redirecting when a child struggles to express themselves, bilateral integration is being encouraged which allows the child to identify their emotions and use cognition to redirect themselves and their behavior. This same effect is encouraged through verbal expression and labeling of feelings by the therapist. Vertical integration is when the child has increased awareness of their experiences and/or when they can more easily transition from an event that triggers their downstairs brain, to sparking their upstairs brain in cognitive thought and reason. We can initiate this integration through storytelling, using play to encourage empathy, and much more in the playroom.

Interested in Play Therapy in Houston TX 77077?

Here at Brittani Persha Counseling in Houston, TX, we want to find ways of serving our clients in the best way possible. Creating a safe space paired with the therapeutic art of play has allowed us to serve countless young ones.

If you are interested in learning more about BPC, please give us a call at 713-364-8645. You may also schedule a free 20-minute phone consultation here. We look forward to chatting with you and getting you connected with one of our play therapists.

About The Author

Avery Benedict, LPC-A is a play therapist at Brittani Persha Counseling in Houston, TX. She received her undergraduate degree in Educational Psychology from the University of Texas. She continued her education and received her master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Sam Houston University. Avery has worked in residential and partial hospitalization treatment settings for patients of all ages who have severe OCD, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders. She currently specializes in working with pre-teens and teenagers utilizing CBT, DBT, and ACT modalities.

References

Wheeler, N., & Dillman Taylor, D. (2016). Integrating interpersonal neurobiology with play therapy. International Journal of Play Therapy, 25(1), 24–34. https://doi.org/10.1037/pla0000018

Why play therapy? – association for play therapy – a4pt.org. Association for Play Therapy. (n.d.). Retrieved July 23, 2022, from https://www.a4pt.org/page/WhyPlayTherapy

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