Why play therapy isn’t always fun

It’s a common response for people, when they hear the words, ‘Play Therapy’, to imagine the children having fun. This is not the case.

The distinction between Play Therapy and playing is this: Play Therapy has a therapeutic goal, whereas playing doesn’t. Children play with their friends or by themselves for the sole purpose of having fun and letting off steam. When a child is referred for Play Therapy, a therapeutic goal is established. This can range from improving self-esteem, learning to cope with anger issues, and developing self-confidence. In order to achieve their goal, children in Play Therapy go on an emotional journey.

This journey has its ups and downs, and over the course of the 12 weeks of Play Therapy (the minimum period), they will dip in and out of their own emotional process. Research has shown that only 8% of children talk about their problems, mostly they express their feelings through the play.

When a child enters the Play Therapy room for the first time, they can choose to play with any of the toys: puppets, sand tray, musical instruments, dressing up clothes, paints, crayons, clay. In non-directive play, the play therapist respects the child’s choice, and plays along with them, to build up rapport, trust, and attachment. Once a strong attachment has been formed, the therapeutic work is well under way.

I have seen children change over the course of 12 weeks from being silent and scared to being expressively engaged; from showing no facial emotions to smiling with good eye contact. The irony is that by the end of the 12 weeks, the child may be able to enjoy life more because they have been able to express their feelings in a non-threatening, non-judgmental environment.

Amanda Seyderhelm is a Certified Play Therapist, author and Great Ormond Street Hospital Ambassador. In addition to practising at The Broad Street Practice, Stamford, she also works at Great Ormond Street Hospital as a Team Leader for the Craft Station which provides a creative and interactive environment with arts and craft activities for patients and their siblings waiting for outpatient appointments. She provides CPD training in the role of therapeutic storytelling in childhood development which is fully accredited by the CPD Standards Office in the UK (awarding body of the Institute of Continuing Professional Development) and can be used for professional registration requirements across a range of disciplines.

Amanda is the author of Isaac and the Red Jumper, a children’s book about healing from loss and bereavement.

To find out about how play therapy can improve a young child’s emotional and mental wellbeing, come along to an information evening on November 10th at The Broad Street Practice, 20-21 Stamford from 6.30-7.30pm.

Call 01780 480889 to book your free ticket for this event.