What Parents Need To Know
What is Play Therapy?
Child play therapy is a way of being with the child that honors their unique developmental level and looks for ways of helping in the “language” of the child – play.
Licensed mental health professionals therapeutically use play to help their clients, most often children ages three to 12 years, to better express themselves and resolve their problems.
Play therapy works best when a safe relationship is created between the therapist and client, one in which the latter may freely and naturally express both what pleases and bothers them.
Mental health agencies, schools, hospitals, and private practitioners have utilized play therapy as a primary intervention or as supportive therapy for:
Behavioral problems, such as anger management, grief and loss, divorce and abandonment, and crisis and trauma
Behavioral disorders, such as anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), autism or pervasive developmental, academic and social developmental, physical and learning disabilities, and conduct disorders
Research suggests play therapy is an effective mental health approach, regardless of age, gender, or the nature of the problem, and works best when a parent, family member, or caretaker is actively involved in the treatment process.
For more information on play therapy including research citations we invite you to view Play Therapy Makes a Difference!
Types of Play Therapy
There are two main forms of play therapy used by play therapists:
Directive Play Therapy: With directive play therapy, the therapist takes a hands-on approach and leads the child through guided play activities to help them express themselves. They’ll typically give specific instructions and supervise the child as they go through it.
Non-directive Play Therapy: Non-directive play therapy makes use of a less controlled environment. The therapist leaves the child to engage in whatever play activities they might enjoy and express themselves with limited interference.
As the child grows more comfortable in the therapist’s playroom, more specific play activities that target the issues the child is dealing with will be introduced. Some of the most common techniques used by play therapists across the world include:
Tea party play
Strategy games like chess or checkers
Using building blocks
Play with dolls
What are the Goals?
The focus of child-centered play therapy is the child rather than the problem. Children will improve when there is a strong therapeutic bond with the therapist, where coping skills are used, and treatment goals are met. Examples of goals are independence, self-reliance, self-confidence, ability to problem solve, self-regulation, and many more.
Benefits of Play Therapy
People are often dismissive of play therapy and the benefits they hold. Concerned parents often find it hard to understand what benefits their children gain from “just playing.” However, the fact is that with or without the guidance of a therapist, children like to communicate through play, whether you might have noticed it or not.
A child playing violently with toys might be dismissed as aggressive when in reality, he might be mirroring a violent domestic situation he has been witnessing.
Here are some of the benefits of play therapy:
Play therapy gives children who are having a hard time communicating verbally to express themselves through play activities. For instance, a child who refuses to speak might instead draw or paint out their thoughts or needs.
It creates a space where a child will feel comfortable being themselves instead of other more traditional forms of psychotherapy.
It allows the child to take charge of their therapy process. Effective play therapy allows the child to use toys and mediums they are most comfortable with and go at their own pace.
It helps children understand their emotions, especially if they had struggled with doing this before.
It helps children build up their communication and social skills with time. After several sessions, a child who wasn’t speaking might start to utter several phrases.
Meet Our Play Therapists
Angela received her BS in Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her MEd in Counseling from the University of Virginia. As a Licensed Professional Counselor (LCPC), Angela spent the first 15 years of her career providing therapy services to children and teens with emotional and behavioral disabilities and has practiced in schools, residential treatment centers, outpatient mental health clinics, and inpatient hospital settings.
Her clinical experience has focused mostly on working with individuals who are experiencing issues related to depression, anxiety, trauma, family conflict, and grief. Angela draws on a variety of techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy, solution focused therapy, and mindfulness to address each client’s unique needs. Her approach is non-judgmental, and she is committed to creating a space where clients feel understood, accepted, and emotionally safe to explore and navigate challenges.
Angela currently works full time for the U.S. Department of Education where she is a Supervisory Education Program Specialist with federal oversight responsibility of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. She lives in Crofton, Maryland with her husband, three children, and two dogs.
Lauren is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW-C). She received her undergraduate degree in psychology from High Point University in 2012 and received her Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Maryland in 2014. She has focused her career to work with families who have experienced trauma; including perinatal loss, loss of a loved one, difficult pregnancies, perinatal mood disorders, anxiety and depression.
Lauren also works for the Department of Social Services providing family preservation services to families in need. She practices human behavior and family systems approaches, utilizing cognitive behavioral, narrative, and motivational interviewing techniques to help individuals process traumatic experiences and facilitate the healing process. Lauren joined Silverleaf Counseling in 2019. She sees couples as well as individuals.
Lauren, her husband, their one living daughter and dog reside in Edgewater, Maryland. They are watched over everyday by their angel baby, Mikayla Catherine, in Heaven.