Many people look for therapy for their children and they have a narrow focus of what play therapy is. They may think that it is sitting down with the child and having long conversations with them to find out why they are acting the way they are acting. They may think the therapist needs to be firm and tell the client how to behave. This is not play therapy.
What is Play Therapy?
Virginia Axeline (author of Dibbs and In Search of Self) was one of the founders of play therapy. She believed that children expressed Therapy themselves through play and that is how they are healed. She would bring the client into the play therapy room, filled with a specific array of toys. She would take dubious notes and write down what the child said and did during the play therapy encounter and later interpret it.
Gary Landreth, founder of Child-Centered Play Therapy followed in her footsteps. When children at home can no longer use their own problem solving tools, they may misbehave or act out at home or school. He believes that, when provided with the right conditions, children can once again learn to cope with difficult emotions and find solutions to their own problems. Thus, he uses play therapy to assess and understand children’s play. Part of this is done by allowing children to take ownership of their reactions and behaviors. He also believes that with play therapy, children can learn self-discipline and self-control in the play therapy room.
Instead of the elaborate note take of Virginia Axeline, Gary Landreth would jot down notes. However, he would also “track” what the child is doing. He might say, “You are pouring that into there.” He would be careful not to label what the child was using before the child labeled it. The child may be using one object and pretending it was something else. Once the child labeled the item, then he would use their terminology. He would track what they were doing not all the time, but every 5 minutes or so depending on what they were doing. The child may correct him or may go on playing.For instance the child may pretend he is shutting a door and he acts as if he is slamming it, he might say, “You are really angry.” The child may then correct him and say that he was just closing the door. If the child did a very positive thing, he may say something like, “Look what you did. You did that all by yourself.” He may repeat it, if the child ignores him. He would be careful not to praise the child as he does not want the child trying to pleasing him with their behaviors. He wants the child to be able to take ownership of their own problem solving behaviors or their own feelings.