by Rob Jost
LMFT Imagine you’re experiencing feelings, yet you may not know how to verbally express what you feel as you don’t yet speak the language of emotions. This is often what young children experience, and a great way to get these feelings out is through play therapy. While there are various forms of therapy for young adults and adults – music, art, writing, etc – most grown ups still engage in some sort of talk therapy to express their emotions. Young children do much better with play therapy, as it allows for expression through what they love and know best – play.
A typical play therapy office has a variety of different toys, sketch pads, widgets and crafts intended for young children. Engaging in play along with the therapist, a child expresses their emotions through means other than directly speaking about how they feel. By projecting their feelings through objects and other types of play, a child communicates more effectively than speaking directly about themselves. They’re not quite developmentally ready for direct expression, and find it much easier to use a fun buffer like play to express what they feel. And, the process of it feels very validating for the child – having an adult encourage, pay attention, and understand what the child is experiencing feels very rewarding and healing.
The therapist’s role in the room is to fully engage in the process, learn about the child’s inner world, and enter along in play. While building rapport and trust, it’s a way to let the child know they are given full freedom to express what they may be holding on inside. Once they feel comfortable in the setting, children tend to naturally express their emotions much more readily than adults. Their sense of inhibition lessens and the important emotional material they held onto inside gets to be processed during play.
It is deeply therapeutic for a young child to be validated for the emotions they experience, as they are constantly impacted by their surroundings and environment. Play therapy is particularly helpful when a child has displayed some indication of difficulty in adjustment and is having a hard time getting back to how they usually feel. It is also useful in helping children grow their sense of self and build stronger self-esteem. If your child seems to be having a difficult time emotionally, play therapy can be a great way to help them regain a sense of confidence and deal with some of the difficulties they’ve endured.