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What is Play Therapy?

The natural form of communication for children is play and activity.  Most adults prefer to talk to communicate their feelings, but for children, developmentally, they are more comfortable expressing themselves and their emotional world through play and art.  Children do not need to be taught how to play, it is spontaneous, enjoyable and child-centered. Play therapy is beneficial for children from 3-11 years.  At age ten-eleven most children are able to sit for longer periods and access their emotional world verbally.  However, art therapy is still age-appropriate and very beneficial for  individuals of all ages.

Play Therapy with Sharon Selby - Parenting Tips to Help your Child with Anxiety
Play Therapy Activities - Parenting Tips to Help your Child with Anxiety
Play Therapy - Parenting Tips to Help your Child with Anxiety
The benefits of Play Therapy - Parenting Tips to Help your Child with Anxiety
Symbolic Play

According to Jean Piaget (1962), famous Swiss developmental psychologist, play bridges the gap between concrete experience and abstract thought; it is the symbolic function of play that is so important.  In play, the child is interacting with toys and art which are symbols for something else the child has experienced directly or indirectly.

Play represents the attempt of children to organize their experiences and may be one of the few times in children’s lives when they feel more in control of their lives and thus more secure…For children to “play out” their experiences and feelings is the most natural, dynamic and self-healing process in which children can engage.

– Gary Landreth

A therapeutic working relationship with children is best established through play, and the relationship is crucial to the activity we refer to as therapy.  Play provides a means through which conflicts can be resolved and feelings can be communicated.
Virginia Axline

Feelings and attitudes which may be too threatening for the child to express directly can be safely projected through play therapy toys and art.  Children’s feelings are often inaccessible at a verbal level.

Play Therapy Overview

My Introductory Session with the Child

My playroom has a variety of toys (doll house, cars, people, animals, blocks, doctor’s kit, bugs, puppets, soldiers, dinosaurs, food, cash register, pots and pans etc.)  There’s also a selection of art materials: markers, paints, crayons, pastels, pencils, scissors, coloured paper, plain paper etc. These toys and art materials encourage creative and therapeutic play.

Limits of Confidentiality and Who Am I?

I will explain to your child that I am a “feelings lady” who has special training to help children with their feelings.  I will ask your child if he/she can name some feelings.  I will explain that we all get difficult feelings and that through art, play and talking I can help with feelings.  I let children know that everything we talk, play or draw about is private unless someone is hurting them and then I would have to get help for them.  I will let them know that before I talk to moms and dads I will chat with them about the kinds of things that I’d like to talk to their parents about.  I will let them know that their play session is not a secret.  They can talk about what they’ve been doing to people such as their parents, but they don’t have to.

As parents, after the session, please refrain from asking “How did you like it?” or “What did you do?”  It is important that the child not feel as though he/she has to behave a certain way in counseling. Likewise, it is important not to “prep” your child for a session ahead of time.  This is a child-centered process and the child needs to lead the way, unconsciously and consciously.  If you make suggestions to your child, as to what he/she should talk about or play about, this will disrupt the unconscious from expressing itself.  Furthermore, if you have any questions please ask me directly during a parent session.

Cautionary Advice

If your child seems reluctant to come to counselling, please let me know by phone or e-mailing the ABLE clinic.  Please don’t give consequences, rewards or bribes.

In play therapy, it is part of the therapeutic process that the child is not required to clean up.  I will explain to the child that this is the one room in the world where he/she does not have to clean up.

If your child shows you a picture that she/he has drawn, feel free to comment on the colours, “Oh I see you used some red and blue and green” but please don’t praise the picture or guess what he/she has drawn “Oh look you drew a dog” … “No it’s a cow!”

The most important therapeutic factor is for me to develop a positive relationship between myself and your child.  Thank you for your support with the aforementioned points.

For some children, depending on their particular issues, once we have developed a trusting relationship, I will add the cognitive behavioural therapy component to our sessions. For some children, the rapport is developed within one session, for other children it may take a few sessions. Play therapy is a research-based practice that is shown to be a very effective and a natural form of counselling for children.  If you have any questions, please let me know.


Sharon Selby - Parenting Tips to Help your Child with Anxiety




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