CYC-Online 65 JUNE 2004
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Play Therapy

Tabrina Legault

Children are born into this world with an amazing skill that too often gets lost in the confusion of the adult world. Being able to play naturally, they are at an advantage for learning skills and concepts that can be taught through play therapy. When Gary Landreth outlined what play therapy can do for children he also told us what areas of development are often a struggle for children and adults alike. Many adults still cannot claim responsibility for their actions or to accept themselves for who they are as people. Perhaps everyone should reclaim their youth and learn to play all over again. The Association for Play Therapy states that play therapy allows trained play therapists to assess and understand children's play and to use it in assisting the child in coping with difficult emotions and in finding solutions to their problems. When applying this therapy to children one must also be aware that there are two types of play therapy, the first being Structured Play therapy (directive) and Nondirective Play therapy.

The two share similarities in that both allow the child to start and direct the type of play and what is to be used in the play. However, where the nondirective therapist may do more observation, the therapist who uses directive approach may engage in play themselves with the child and introduce new topics to keep the play moving. In both cases the therapist will often direct conversations about the issue by asking open ended questions to the child in an attempt to gain an understanding of how the child may interpret the actions of a character or to find the level of catharsis the child has achieved (provided role-playing, character stories or story telling is being used). When a child is playing the professional conducting directive therapy may interpret the stories being acted out by the child which is contrasting the what a nondirective therapist might do when they are reflecting the feelings, statements and actions of the child or his/her characters.

"Only through engaging in the process of play therapy in an accepting, caring relationship can children express and use the totality of their personalities" (Landreth, 1993). In all types of play therapy it is made clear that in order for the professional; whether it be a therapist, teacher or early childhood educator; to provide a safe environment where the child can build a relationship of trust with that person. “The play therapist is never an observer but is always an emotional and verbal participant" (Landreth). Both types of therapy engage a child through different activities. They both incorporate story telling, art techniques, drama and games as well as playing. The nondirective approach really allows the child to tell his/her own stories, play their own games, make up characters to play with and the type of art (painting, colouring and what to draw). Unlike nondirective, the directive therapist would read a story with a purpose and meaning related to the topic being directed by the therapist at the time. Also in playing activities the therapist would chose a game to play or the theme for puppet characters to follow. Likewise the directive therapist also interprets the child's activities and makes hypothesises about the meanings.

Another aspect of play therapy which was designed to incorporate families into the child's learning and sessions was Filial Therapy. Filial therapy “treats a child's mental health problems within a family context" and “combines psycho educational, empowerment, and play therapy methods to actively involve parents in their child's treatment". Such therapy is used with all ages and personality types and aims to eliminate or prevent behaviour problems and to encourage parents to engage and understand their youth. Parents and therapists work together in observing and learning about the child's play and by involving the family into the sessions. Providing the family with at-home activity and follow up is essential to making this work.

Upon reading the information I have on the different ways to apply play therapy to therapeutic sessions I am compelled to say that I find the first (directive play therapy) to be the most efficient. This opinion is formed only due to the fact that I would choose to use this as a type of therapy in working with children as opposed to non-directive. I like the idea of having more control over sessions and getting the information I need to successfully identify problems and issues for the child as opposed to waiting for the issue to arise sometime in a session of play. I also prefer being able to ask more close ended questions with regards to characters and feeling of the child and what is immediate for that session. Though both practices use similar ways of play and creative expression for the child, only one seems directly focused on a specific issue. Before reading the materials I was not aware of the Filial method and was heartened to hear that family involvement is so valued in therapy sessions. Play therapy is supposed to be child-centred of course, but family needs to understand the mind of a child and many need to learn how to play with their children. I like the ideas presented in the reading Child Centred Play Therapy. Ideas such as tote bag playrooms are wonderful in helping schools implement play therapy whenever they can (such was the example of Irving elementary schools in Texas). It also is a great tool to be used in homes and even emergency shelters. A child's world revolves around play, like the module said, all children can play no matter what traumas they have faced or setbacks they encounter. I still believe that no matter what age a person may be, play is always a form of everyday therapy.


Landreth, Garry L. (1993).Elementary School Guidance & Counselling. Child Centred Play Therapy. Vol. 28 Issue 1, p.17, 13p.

The Association for Play Therapy:

Children's Mental Health Program, Course 2, Module5, Unit 4.

The International Child and Youth Care Network

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