“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” – Plato

As a therapist who works primarily with children, adolescents and families, one of the questions I frequently get is “What exactly is play therapy?”

In short, play therapy is an evidence-based and proven therapeutic modality that allows children to grow, learn, heal and thrive.

Play therapy offers children the opportunity to process their feelings, develop appropriate coping skills, and learn pro-social behaviors in a way that makes sense to them in a non-threatening and comfortable way.

Children often do not have the verbal abilities to express their feelings or thoughts. By engaging children in play, therapists can observe and assess what they are experiencing in their life and understand “their world.”

If you have ever asked your child, “Why did you do that?” and the response was “I don’t know,” there most likely was some validity to their answer.

When children are not equipped to solve their own problems, they often act out at home and-or school, isolate themselves or, via other actions, express their anger, frustration and unhappiness. When children can confront their problems in the play session, they are able to develop more appropriate resolutions and gain insight about how to handle situations.

Therapists model and instruct children via play in healthier ways to manage their problems, express their feelings and identify other positive behaviors to get their needs met.

Children learn by watching and doing, and play is something that all know how to do. Play is a universal activity that elevates our mood and has been shown to aid children in developing confidence, learning empathy and improving self-esteem.

Play therapy can be used with children ages 3 to 12, and for older adolescents can be modified to meet their needs or used in conjunction with other modalities.

Play therapy also has the benefit of being widely adaptable and can be used to help children with issues such as anger management, grief and loss, anxiety, depression, bullying and peer issues, trauma, attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), autism, and academic and social developmental concerns.

Play therapy often includes the parents. It is a good way for them to learn tools to improve their relationship with their children by developing healthy parent-child boundaries, ways to manage or redirect their children’s negative behaviors, and empowering them in being able to talk to and understand their child.

Linda Mounce, MA, LPC, NCC is a licensed professional counselor and associate with Psychological and Counseling Associates of the Lowcountry, LLC in Bluffton.