Play Therapy


Why Play?

Play is an essential ingredient in our development. In fact, we have specific motivational circuitry in our brains geared towards seeking play! It is a natural and fundamental source of learning within the cognitive, physical, emotional, and social domains. Play allows children to create and explore a world they can master. In play they conquer fears and develop competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and building resiliency they take with them to face future challenges. Child-centered play invites children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills.

Play is also the vehicle that drives healthy and secure attachments with loving and consistent caregivers. When parents observe their children in play or join with them in child-centred play they get to see the world through their child’s eyes. Play experiences with caregivers elicit so much joy and give children feelings of being loved, delighted in, and responded to. Caregivers who can have the opportunity to glimpse their child’s play communicate more effectively with their children and are given another setting to offer gentle, nurturing guidance. Play has also been shown to help children adjust to the school setting and even to enhance children’s learning readiness, learning behaviours, and problem-solving skills.

"Play Therapy"

Through Play Therapy, Children Can Connect With Their Emotions

For therapy to be a worthwhile experience for your child, they need to feel comfortable and engaged. Because children have not reached emotional maturity yet, it’s important to modify therapy to reflect the stage of your child’s psychological and social development. What’s more, we need to establish an environment of trust between the child and therapist so that they feel empowered to express themselves openly. The therapeutic relationship provides your child with uninterrupted attention, care, and one-on-one support.

What is Play Therapy?

Play therapy is a structured, theoretically based approach to therapy that builds on the communicative and learning processes of children (Carmichael, 2006; Landreth, 2002; O'Connor & Schaefer, 1983). The curative powers inherent in play are used in many ways. Therapists strategically utilize play therapy to help children express what is troubling them  when they do not have the verbal language and cognitive capabilities to express their thoughts and feelings (Gil, 1991). In play therapy, toys and Expressive Arts are like the child's words and play is the child's language (Landreth, 2002).

How Does Play Therapy Work?

Play Therapy provides a safe and inviting environment for children and teens to express their feelings and find ways to create play and art that resembles the stressful experiences they are struggling with internally. Play Therapy differs from regular play in that the therapist is trained to reflect the child’s inner world, model self-regulation and help children feel empowered so they can address and resolve their issues in an effective way. Play allows children a safe psychological distance from their challenges and allows them to express their true thoughts and feelings about their experiences at a pace that is appropriate for their developmental level. In the playroom there are a wide variety of toys, sand tray, games, stories, sensory and artistic materials available. The attuned, responsive, and validating relationship that develops between therapist and child provides a restorative emotional experience and serves to release the natural healing resources that lie within the child. Play Therapy allows children to attach meaning to confusing things as well as assists them in finding new coping strategies and creative solutions that work. Play and art “turn on” the right brain (the feeling brain) and allow for rhythm and movement, a critical piece to healing trauma stored in the body.

Play Therapy Helps Kids Express Themselves Authentically

Rather than having to verbalize how they feel through question and answer, therapy geared for children ages 4-12 incorporates play into each counselling session so children can show us how they feel. As I engage with them, your child becomes the director of their time in sessions and gets to play out what they need.

Through non-directive, child-centered play therapy, they are empowered to express their difficult emotions in the context of a safe therapeutic relationship. Through the symbolic language of play, your child can explore and express their struggles while becoming aware of their thoughts and feelings.

Once in touch with their thoughts and feelings, I can help your child identify the behaviors associated and develop strategies to modulate their nervous system through the experience. For example, in therapy with younger children, they may learn to notice the wobbly feeling in their tummy (worry) and decide to dance with it back and forth until it feels settled. Or with older children, they may learn how to release worry thoughts they notice by writing out what would be the worst that could happen with each one and how they might handle it. Or by writing down and then scribbling out each worry by moving the pen or eraser back and forth on the page. While scribbling back and forth the child can name a good thing that might happen instead of the worry.

I also find that incorporating creative expression—through painting, drawing, sand tray or building things—can help children and teens more easily access emotions and feelings that lie beneath the surface.

Play Therapy and EMDR

What is EMDR Therapy?

Based on Francine Shapiro’s adaptive information processing (AIP) model and is effective for resolving symptoms caused by disturbing, difficult, or frightening life experiences. EMDR helps process the troubling thoughts, feelings, and sensations that are disrupting daily functioning.

EMDR is based on the adaptive information model (AIP). The AIP model believes we have a built-in information processing system in the brain that gets blocked when a traumatic or adverse event occurs, causing the event to get stuck or locked in the brain with the original picture, sounds, thoughts, feelings and body sensations. An individual may become activated with these pictures, thoughts, feelings, and sensations when there is a reminder of the traumatic event. EMDR therapy assists the individual by helping the brain reprocess these traumatic memories, and as a result reduce emotional distress.

(For more information, please visit the EMDRIA website.)

EMDR-Sprinkled Play Therapy

Prescriptive play therapy for trauma involves a phase-based approach where the activities within the playroom may vary from less directive to more directive play, with the goal of supporting trauma work. Play provides that safe right brain receptivity for the activation of traumatic memories. Then while in these activating experiences I guide and support trauma digestion flexibly using the eight phases. The significance of adding EMDR to the experiences that children are already having in the play therapy room hold tremendous promise for entering memory networks and promoting healing.