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3 Neurobiological Reasons Why Play Therapy Works

You know that your child is going to play therapy but you don’t know how it works. Or, you think your child might benefit from play therapy – but you aren’t sure. Luckily, neurobiology – a branch of science focusing on the nervous system - can help explain how play therapy helps your child. Interested? Here’s three reasons why play therapy promotes healing by changing the way the brain functions:

1. Play therapy’s focus on relationships and experience creates positive changes in the brain.

Play therapists work hard to build relationships with their clients and help them process painful situations through play experiences.

The brain is plastic, meaning that it's constantly changing. Play therapy alters the way that the brain is structured -- rewiring the child's developing brain and promoting healing.

Great, you're thinking, but how does it work? When a child experiences trauma or pain, a recipe for how to respond to such trauma is put into the body. If a different outcome occurs after a trauma recipe is reactivated, there is a 'reconsolidation window' of time where brain circuits are open to change. Through play, the play therapist helps the child change the way their brain processes previous trauma experiences in a safe, emotionally-regulating environment.

Play is ideal for this because implicit (unexpressed) information about trauma is not accessible through words.

2. Play therapy helps process emotional responses in the brain when cognition (thinking) can't.

Parts of the brain called the lower brain help us process emotion. If lower brain functions become overactivated through stress, higher brain functions like thinking are tougher.

Play therapists can help recalibrate the brain with interventions such as playing school. These interventions help the child feel a sense of space and control - restoring the balance between thinking/feeling in the brain.

3. Play therapy is uniquely suited to help kids work through trauma associations in the brain.

Kids respond emotionally to sensory cues that remind them of memories. This can be upsetting for kids who have experienced trauma.

For example, a kid chewing gum (a sensory cue) while seeing a traumatic event might start to feel anxious every time that they chew gum. Play therapy, which is grounded in sensory-based interventions, can help a child respond more positively to these traumatic sensory cues.

To get more information about pursuing therapy at Playmore and Prosper, visit:


Ecker, B., Ticic, R., & Hulley, L. (2012). Unlocking the Emotional Brain: Eliminating Symptoms at Their Roots Using Memory Reconsolidation.

Hong, R. & Mason, M. (2016). Becoming a Neurobiologically-Informed Play Therapist (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology).

Kestly, T. A. (2014). The Interpersonal Neurobiology of Play: Brain-Building Interventions for Emotional Well-Being.

Tags: Playmore and Prosper, Play therapy, Counseling, Neurobiology

Playmore & Prosper is a collaborative community of health and wellness professionals who provide a unique, evidence-based, experiential approach to counseling and wellness services for kids and families. Our mission is to invite people into personal growth experiences through activity and the expressive arts. 

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