Play therapy

What is play therapy?

Play therapy is a form of psycho-therapeutic intervention for children, where play is used to help children express themselves when they are experiencing challenges in their social and emotional development. Children often find it too difficult or too threatening to talk about what is bothering them and to express themselves using their words, however, playing is the natural language of the child and is safe way for children to discover their world, to express their thoughts and process their feelings. Play therapy provides children with the opportunity to relax and enable them to experiment and practice new behaviour in a safe environment.

The Gestalt play therapy approach is used and focuses on making contact with the child and creating emotional awareness in the here and the now, in a trusting and safe environment. Through the use of fantasy, role play, projections, stories, creative play and various play media and activities, the child can “tell” his story to the world, without having to use words.

The therapist is seen as the child’s playmate, who can help the child to develop new emotional insights, work through their experiences and discover their inner strength and resilience. The therapist and parents play an important role in supporting the child through the play therapy process to achieve the treatment goals.

Play therapy can be helpful when a child:

  • has gone through a traumatic experience (i.e. abuse, neglect, loss of a significant person or pet, family violence, victim of a crime)
  • has been a victim of bullying or if the child is displaying bullying behaviour
  • experiences attachment difficulties (i.e. separation anxiety)
  • experiences significant changes and adjustments in his or her environment (i.e. being an expat child or relocating to a new place)
  • finds it challenging to interact with peers (i.e. playing together with other kids, sharing with others or making friends)
  • finds it challenging to express his or her emotions in a safe way
  • has a low self esteem or low confidence
  • struggles with aggressive behaviour or anger outbursts
  • experiences psychosomatic symptoms
  • experiences symptoms of depression
  • has to deal with parental conflict, such as divorce or separation

Outline of the sessions

The play therapy trajectory generally consists out of 8 sessions (longer-term intervention is possible if needed)

1. Meeting and intake phase

Session 1: Intake with the parents

During the intake we will discuss the reasons for referral and the need for play therapy, the concerns and questions that the parents have and we will explore the psychosocial functioning and development of the child with the use of an assessment form. This session provides an opportunity to discuss what can the parents and child can expect of the therapist and vice versa.

2. Assessment, observation and therapy phase

Sessions 2 to 7: Play therapy with the child

The play therapy sessions takes place with the child and the therapist at a safe environment. We make use of various play techniques and activities, following a therapeutic process based on Gestalt principles.

The parents serve as partners during the process, because much of the progress that we will make with therapy, needs to be continued and practised at home. Sometimes the child will get “homework” or be expected to try out new behaviour and this will need to be guided by the parents.

3. Evaluation phase

Session 8: Parenting support

During this session the therapist will provide feedback of the therapy sessions and the progress made.