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5 Things Every Parent Should Know About Play Therapy

So you’ve found a play therapist for your child and scheduled your first appointment. You have no idea what to expect – what is play therapy, anyway, and how is it going to help your child work through what they're struggling with? You want to help make sure your kid is getting all they can out of play therapy, but you’re not sure what you can do to make that happen. If any of this sounds like you, great! This blog will be a helpful introduction to play therapy – with what you need to know as a parent.

1. What is play therapy?

Play therapy is a type of therapy where a therapist uses play, toys, and games to help the child explore, express, and safely experience the difficulties they are working through. Using play, the therapist uncovers insights otherwise unable to be heard and recognized through normal dialogue. Kids explore for understanding physically, so play therapy is the most developmentally-appropriate way to approach child therapy. It allows the therapist to meet the child at their level, helping with cognitive, emotional, and behavioral challenges. Play therapy is a safe arena for a therapist to witness the solutions the child attempts during play. The goal of play therapy is to help children behave more adaptively and learn new ways to solve problems or process past trauma. Play therapy’s effectiveness as a mental health approach is supported by empirical psychological research. Play therapists are rigorously trained through a certification process that ensures a competent use of play as a healing agent.

2. How does play therapy work?

Play therapy’s focus on relationships and experience creates positive changes in the brain. While kids explore their concerns, the therapeutic relationship helps regulate their emotions, which permits the brain to make structural changes. These changes lead to better understanding and more adaptive behaviors.

The brain is plastic – meaning that it’s constantly changing. Disconfirming experiences (experiences which do not match what was expected from the body) open our brain synapses to new learning. Brain circuits are open to being rewired when confronted with a disconfirming experience while the body is in a regulated emotional state. For example, say Billy has always experienced physical symptoms of anxiety when he’s talking about a traumatic experience. Using play, Billy can work through his traumatic experience without feeling the same symptoms of anxiety because he’s feeling different physical sensations through play. Billy’s brain can now rewire to have a new