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Playing with a Purpose

By Rebecca Patterson, LPCC

Playing with A Purpose – A Guide to Helping Parents Navigate the Play Therapy Process

“Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child's soul.” By Friedrich Frobel

Therapist that uses Therapeutic Play
Rebecca Patterson, LPCC

It has been said that play is the work of a child. In my many years of working with children I have found that the way the youngster plays will reveal what is important to them, what is on their mind, or how they process situations. If you are a parent of a child who is struggling with anxiety, depression, grief, trauma, anger, sensory issues, or some other difficulty, then Play Therapy could be the medium needed to help them bring healing and an improved level of functioning.

The Association for Play Therapy defines this mode of treatment as “the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained Play Therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.” It takes many years of training, supervision, education, and clinical practice for a licensed mental health professional to become a play therapist. When you seek out a play therapist to work with your child you can expect that this type of counseling is different from any other, but it is a process that will enrich the life of your child.

The first few sessions with a play therapist will provide an opportunity for the child to explore the play room and for the therapist to interact with the client and get to know them.

  • When I first meet with a child my goal is to allow them to develop trust with me. I want a client to feel comfortable looking at the toys in my office, exploring them, and connecting with me. After this bond is developed then treatment goals can start to be addressed.

  • I have a plan for each session but am also flexible enough to allow the child to direct the session if needed. Play therapists often utilize sand trays, drawings, toys, clay, water colors, sensory objects, musical instruments, dolls, puppets, role play, games, books, and so much more in a session with your child. Children who come to me for therapy are excited to come because it is fun!

  • The client can use toys and play to share what is bothering them even when they do not have the verbal language to openly express it. The therapy experience will empower your child to grow, learn, and heal in a way that is natural and enjoyable for them.

As a parent I would caution you to make sure that the therapist you choose to work with your child is trained to use play therapy techniques. As mentioned earlier, Play Therapy is a systematic and therapeutic approach to treatment. It is more than having toys in an office, having a child draw a picture, or playing with blocks while communicating with a counselor.

"Anyone can take a deck of cards to a session and talk to a child about how their day at school is going, but this does not qualify as play therapy.”

The concern in these practices is that it may not be a productive form of treatment for your child and does not address underlying issues. Counselors utilizing this methodology can hinder your child’s progress and their symptoms can worsen due to not having their needs met in a therapeutic way.

As a mother myself I often seek out the best care for my children whether it for dentistry, pediatrics, education, or even athletic endeavors. This is also the case when selecting the best counselor for your family. When choosing a behavioral health professional to address concerns you have for your young person, I hope that you will consider one that specializes in play therapy. Their unique training and experience could be exactly what your child needs to make a break through and bring real change to their life. This method of treatment is ideal for preschoolers, school age children, adolescents, and even teenagers. Most of my clients become so engrossed in the interventions that they do not realize that real healing is taking place in those moments.

I would love the opportunity to speak to you about whether Play Therapy would be best for you and your family!

To schedule an appointment with Rebecca, click here!

Rebecca Patterson, LPCC

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