What is Play Therapy?

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” Plato

“Play is vital to every child’s social, emotional, cognitive, physical, creative and language development. It helps make learning concrete for all children and young people including those for whom verbal communication may be difficult.”

British Association of Play therapists

Play is a child’s natural form of expression. Play therapists use play to understand and communicate with children about feelings, thoughts and behaviour. Rather than having to talk about difficult feelings or upsetting events, children use play to communicate at their own level and at their own pace, without feeling pressured. Play Therapists receive extensive training in child development and attachment.

Why should I use it?

Play therapy has been used for over 60 years to provide emotional support to children and help them to learn more about their thoughts and feelings. Play therapy can be used with a general outcome in mind, for example: reduced anxiety or improved self-esteem. It can also bring about more specific change in behaviour and relationships. Sometimes children play out traumatic or difficult life experiences in the therapy room in order to make sense of their past and cope better with their life now.  Children may also learn better ways to manage relationships and conflict.

The play therapy available through TESSA is mainly non-directive, meaning that the child is free to play without direction from the therapist. The idea is that given the chance to play and speak freely a child can work through their own difficulties. The child may play with a range of resources that encourage dramatic play or associations. These include dolls and other toy figures such as animals and cars, as well as puppets, crayons, sand and water trays, musical instruments, art materials, books and dressing-up clothes. The therapist supports the process without interference or interpretation.

Is it right for my child?

A play therapist will listen to your concerns about your child and family. They will review the child’s history and find out about their challenges so they can help your child make sense of them. The therapist may ask your permission to contact the school and other significant adults in the child’s life.
Therapists usually work with a child on a one-to-one basis, yet parental involvement and support is important. The therapist will meet with you at regular intervals to discuss progress in therapy sessions and at home. However they will not disclose specific details of your child’s sessions. This is important to maintain a child’s trust and feelings of safety with the therapist.

Research shows that non-directive play therapy is equally effective for boys and girls of all ages and in individual or group settings.


What is Theraplay®?

“It is not just play, but attuned play that is important” Phyllis Booth

Theraplay® is a type of adult – child play therapy used to strengthen attachments between parents and children. It is based on the natural patterns of playful and sensitive care-giving with which a ‘good-enough’ parent would nourish a young baby. Adopted children would rarely have received this type of caregiving in their early life, so, Theraplay® gives adoptive parents a chance to recreate positive experiences through nurturing play. The aim is to help children have fun, learn to trust adults, feel safe in the world and see themselves as lovable people.

Why should I use it?

Adoptive parents tend to enter adoption feeling they have so much love to give a child that they are bound to create a happy family. The challenge however is that children with trauma histories trauma may not be able to take advantage of what adopters have to offer. Theraplay® involves parents in the therapy and includes them in play activities that work to help a child feel safe and comforted, experience good touch, learn to trust, improve regulation and self-image. The Theraplay® therapist guides the sessions, but eventually parents become co-therapists, providing nurture and building security with the child. Dads are encouraged to share in this role.

 Is it right for my child?

The Theraplay® Institute states that Theraplay® can help children with insecure attachment histories who may display a range of behaviours, including being withdrawn, depressed, fearful, and shy as well as acting out, angry, non-compliant children. Children with trauma histories, regulatory problems, ADHD, autistic spectrum disorders and developmental delays

It also benefits older children with attachment difficulties who need heaps of nurture but with whom parents are often less intimate and less playful than with older children. Theraplay® enables child and parent to accept the need for regression.

Theraplay® activities fall into four dimensions of child development:

1 Engagement: To establish and maintain a connection with the child, to focus on the child in an intense way and to surprise and entice the child into enjoying new experiences.

2 Nurture: To reinforce the message that the child is worthy of care and that adults will provide care without the child having to ask for it.

3 Structure: To relieve the child of the burden of having to be in control. The adult sets limits, defines body boundaries, keeps the child safe and helps complete activities.

 4 Challenge: To build a child’s ability and confidence by encouraging them to take a slight risks and accomplish an activity with adult help.

Theraplay® is a directive therapy, yet it only has three rules: no hurts, the adult is in charge, everybody has fun.