Play is the language of children. It is how they communicate deep thoughts and emotions. Not only is play the language of childhood but it is also the way we measure development in the lives of children. These two factors make play a perfect medium for therapy.
Play therapy affords trained specialists and children a medium through which they can communicate on a deeper level than most children under the age of ten have the ability to communicate verbally. Similarly to sand play therapy, play therapy gives young people the opportunity to place meaning and emphasis on the toys they choose to play with and the discipline empowers child therapists to work with the child to interpret what they are communicating. In addition, play therapy has infinite opportunities for building rapport between therapists and children.
The rules of sand play stood out to me. While I understand all processes need guidelines and boundaries. It seems to me that if a therapist wanted to talk about anger or violent pasts, the best way to get to that with a child is to experience true anger with them. Many children express anger by damaging toys or acting aggressively. It seems as though restricting their experience to exclude acts of anger would reduce the likelihood of exploring anger based trauma. That being said, the conversation with the play therapist helped me to understand that each child is treated uniquely and alternate options are available. For example, she mentioned if a child has a hard time following indoor guidelines the session can be relocated outside to best support the therapeutic process of the child.
In addition to helping children understand and work on psychological challenges, play therapy also has preventative opportunities. Play, during a time of trauma, has the opportunity to reduce the reflective stress for years to come. In the age of technology, research has been done that suggests playing 15-20 minutes of visually simulating and simple mobile games after a traumatic experience can drastically reduce the likelihood that the person will experience PTSD in years to come. While its military applications are obvious, I think this concept also has numerous applications in the field of play therapy. The research does suggest playing immediately after a traumatic experience. This tool would have to exist outside of the therapist’s office as more times than not students will experience trauma when they are not in their counselor’s office. The exception to this rule is school counselors. If a student is being bullied, rather than relieve the experience over and over again, they could visit the counselor’s office and play to suppress the memory.
Play is an integral part of development. Children naturally use it to communicate. We as adults have an undying desire to do to children what is best for adults. This may be an effort to better prepare them for adulthood. The fact is, research tells us that doing what is developmentally appropriately to help children develop is far more effective. In fact, doing anything to rush development has been observed to slow down the developmental process. Play is a naturally part of childhood. It is much more comfortable to people between the ages of 3 and 12 than discussing emotional distress brought about by abuse or neglect. To best serve the psychological needs of children, we need to integrate more developmentally appropriate styles of therapy into the offices of counselors and therapists that work with children.