Friday 16 November 2012

The Benefits of Play Therapy

Photo credit: zach.wise via photopin cc

Play is an important part of a child’s development. It promotes exploration and mastery and allows the child to express themselves in a non-threatening environment. Recognising the power of pretend play as a way of self-expression for children, child psychologists and therapists are increasingly using play therapy in their sessions.

Therapeutic Play is Important for 7 Reasons:

1) Communication
In situations where the child finds it difficult to talk about their painful experiences, for example sexual abuse, play is often used as a mode of communication between the psychologist and the child. As play is seen as separate from reality, the child is also able to freely express negative feelings that they may have towards their parents or other adults which may otherwise not be expressed in real life because of fear.

2) Pleasure
And since play is essentially fun, even the most withdrawn or resistant child will be open to therapy if you engage them in play!

3) Therapeutic Alliance
At the same time, play also strengthens the therapeutic relationship between the psychologist and client where the latter learns to trust and open up to the former. Such a therapeutic alliance is necessary in order for therapy to be successful.

4) Insight
Therapeutic play also provides an insight into the child’s thought processes, personality and even psychopathological symptoms. The way a child reacts when they win or lose the game can inform the psychologist on their coping strategies or highlight any atypical behaviour.

5) Socialization
Because the therapist is also a player in the game, he/she is able to model to the child the right behaviour in a social situation. For example, the child can observe how the therapist deals with the disappointment of losing the game and learn the appropriate tone of voice to use. The child also learns how to follow rules and how to react in a socially appropriate way (for example, not screaming when he loses or gloating when he wins). Such social modelling is essential for the development of social relationships in any child.

6) Cognitive Development
Intellectual challenge is often used in many games hence cognitive skills such as memory, concentration, logical thinking and problem solving are often developed as a result. The ability to think logically and rationally is important in therapy as it leads to self-reflection and understanding. When the child is able to draw the link between their actions and its consequent behaviour, they are more likely to rethink their actions.

7) Enhance Self-Esteem
The experience of playing a game promotes organisation, mastery of anxiety and self-esteem. The child learns how to take turns, follow rules and feel a sense of satisfaction when they win. The success of the game also prepares the way for deeper therapeutic interventions in subsequent sessions.

The moral of the story?
Don’t Underestimate the Power of Play =)

P.S: As far as I know, certification in play therapy is not yet available in Singapore. If you do know of any avenues where certification is available, please do leave me a comment with the contact =)

Schaefer, C. E. & Reid, S. E. (2001). Game Play - Therapeutic Use of Childhood Games. John Wiley & Sons, Inc: United States of America.
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