“Play therapy is based upon the fact that play is the child’s natural medium of self-expression. It is the opportunity for the child to ‘play out’ his/her feelings and problems just as adults talk out their difficulties” Virginia Axaline
Play is one of the most critical factors in healthy development. Play allows children to be creative, use their imagination, show their emotional strength, resolve problems, negotiate, work through fears, and build confidence. Therapeutic play is often undirected and lead entirely by the child. Helen Benedict identifies a variety of themes in play such as nurturing play (e.g., caring for a doll), fixing play (e.g., doctoring, repairing), sorting play (e.g., lining things up, categorizing), and constancy play (e.g., hide n’ seek, peekaboo). While some therapeutic play may be specific to trauma, parental interactions, and/or anxieties, other play is focused on turn-taking, emotional expression, communication, and fun! Below are five of my favourite ways to incorporate aspects of play therapy into sessions.
1. Magic Wand Play – The therapist would give the client a magic wand and ask them to make three wishes. This supports clients to verbalize their wishes or goals and share aspects of their environment (home or school), that may be troubling them.
2. Dollhouse Play – Give the client a dollhouse and dolls. Have the client model four different scenarios in their real home such as bedtime, dinnertime, playtime, and clean up time to understand the client’s family dynamics.
3. Family Relations Play – The therapist would put a number of mailboxes in the room for the client and one for each family member. The therapist gives the client “mail” which consists of strips of paper that read things like “loves me,” “hates me,” “protects me,” and asks the client to put these pieces of mail in each appropriate mailbox. This helps the therapist understand family dynamics.
4. Worry Dolls – Give the client a set of dolls or help the client make their own worry dolls. Have the client assign each doll a worry and put the dolls in a box to stay at the therapist’s office so that the dolls worry about the clients issues instead of the client worrying about them. In future sessions, bring out each worry one at a time and discuss the worry and how the client is dealing with it.
5. Tea Party Play – Throw a tea party to celebrate the client’s progress! Have them talk or “toast,” about what they have learned, what is better, what they have liked the best, etc. Or present the client with dolls and a tea set and ask them to “set the table” for their tea party. Who do they serve tea to? Who sits at the table with them?
Written by Ashley Carlson, Clinical Counsellor with Wildflowers