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  • CÓILÍN Ó BRAONÁIN

What is Play Therapy?

A recent conference in Dublin hosted by the Children’s Therapy Centre underlined the growing awareness of the use of play in therapy for children. But what is play therapy exactly?

Play therapy is a type of counselling designed specifically for children. It involves the child playing in a specially designed play room while the therapist pays close attention to the play and joins in, when invited. The child is fully in charge of the play, and the play therapist only intervenes if safety becomes an issue. The parent usually waits in an adjoining waiting room.


We use play therapy rather than ‘talk therapy,’ because in order to engage children in a manner which will be attractive to them, a methodology is required which does not involve long discussions as we do with adults. Instead, the most appropriate method likely to achieve these goals is non-directive play therapy.


The rationale underlying the use of play as psychotherapy is that; a) play is the most natural and spontaneous form of expression among children, and b) children openly use play as a tool toward developmental maturation. In other word, children can play and they like to play.


In the case of social, emotional or behavioural difficulties, play is used as a reparative technique by children in an unconscious manner. That is, the problem or developmental delay is repaired indirectly without your child having to talk about the issue.


Play therapy, therefore, facilitates change by allowing children, via symbolic activity, to attend to issues at a perceived distance. In that way, awareness may be directed towards the problem in a manner which does not increase anxiety. The use of play as therapy is, consequently, a respectful and non-invasive means of intervening to overcome developmental delays or resolve emotional disturbance.


An example of symbolic play is a child acting out a family scene with toy people or puppets. The activity, which seems to be a game, may also have some relevance to anxieties around change in the family at home.

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