play Therapy - Edmonton Psychologist - Child Therapy

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Play therapy or child therapy is a research based treatment approach that is proven to be effective for a wide range of issues. Play therapy uses toys, games, and the child’s imagination to enable a child to express issues they may not be able to talk about.  A play therapist may use art, mask making, sand tray work, puppets, movement, music, dolls, dress up and imaginative play as a means to engage children in the therapeutic process. 

What is involved in a play based assessment?

A play-based assessment is used to gather information from the child and the family using play therapy strategies.  There are three parts to the process:

  • the parent/caregiver provides background information about the child that includes information on the presenting problem, previous interventions, the family dynamics, developmental progress, medical history, and educational summary
  • the parent/caregiver provides information on the child’s activities, daily schedule and completes a scale on the child’s temperament
  • the assessment therapist will do an observation of the child and their parent/caregiver as they engage in play activities. 

Once this assessment is complete, the play therapist will provide a report to the family with recommendations for further therapeutic interventions.  A treatment plan will be created with the family to guide further play therapy sessions.

What is involved in a play therapy session?

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Sessions are 35 to 50 minutes depending on the age of the child.  The session may include many types of play.  Most children enjoy the opportunity to play with the therapist, and do not realize the therapist is utilizing the play to help the child process through difficult emotions or tasks. 

The session begins with the therapist checking in with the child and parent(s), followed by a period of child focused play therapy, and then a short debrief session with the child and parent(s).  Some times the therapist will ask the family to do some activities at home to strengthen the progress being made in the sessions. 

How long does play therapy take?

Progress may sometimes be seen after 2-3 play sessions, but significant change generally takes 10 to 20 sessions.  Some children can take less time, and others may take more time depending on their needs and circumstances.

Who benefits from play therapy?

Play therapy is the preferred treatment of choice for most children ages 3 to 12 years of age, but many of the techniques also work with toddlers, teens and adults.  Play at any age allows people to experience their world and resolve issues using symbolic representations.

Play therapy can help a child who is experiencing difficulties in the home, school or community.  The Association for Play Therapy outlines the following benefits to children in play therapy on their website:

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  • Dealing with trauma
  • Working through separation, grief and loss
  • Strengthening parent-child attachment
  • Managing emotions better
  • Improved problem solving skills
  • Increased creative thinking
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  • Better communication skills
  • Managing daily stress better
  • Improved understanding of self and others
  • Increasing hope and self-confidence
  • Learning how to build and grow relationships

How is the child's family involved in supporting play therapy?

Families play an important role in a child’s healing process.  At a minimum, the therapist will talk regularly with the parents/caregivers to develop a plan and to discuss the child's progress.  When appropriate, the various family members may also be included in the child’s play therapy sessions.  The therapist will use these sessions to teach the parent/caregiver how to further improve their relationship with their child through play.

Because children of different ages have different play needs, it is important that the play therapist working with your child has expertise in that child's age range.  Typically therapists will specialize in pre-schoolers (children aged 0-5 years), school age children (5-12 years) and teenagers (12-18 years). 

Stephanie, Karin and Donna provide Edmonton Play Therapy