Adapted from https://www.healthline.com/health/play-therapy


Play therapy is a form of therapy used primarily for children. That’s because children may not be able to process their own emotions or articulate problems to parents or other adults. There’s a bit of a communication gap between children and adults. Depending on age and stage of development, children simply don’t have the language skills of adults. They may feel something, but in many cases, they either can’t express it to an adult or don’t have a trusted adult to express it to. On the other end, adults can misinterpret or completely miss the child’s verbal and nonverbal cues.


While it may look like an ordinary playtime, play therapy can be much more than that. Children learn to understand the world and their place in it through play. It’s where they’re free to act out their inner feelings and deepest emotions. Toys can act as symbols and take on greater meaning — if you know what to look for. Since the child can’t adequately express themselves in the adult world, the therapist joins the child in their world, on their level.


Play therapy will differ depending on the therapist and the particular needs of the child. To begin, the therapist may want to observe the child at play. They may also want to conduct separate interviews with the child, parents, or teachers. After a thorough assessment, the therapist will set some therapeutic goals, decide on what limits may be necessary, and formulate a plan for how to proceed.


Play therapists pay close attention to how a child handles being separated from the parent, how they play alone, and how they react when the parent returns. Much can be revealed in how a child interacts with different types of toys and how their behaviour changes from session to session. They may use play to act out fears and anxieties, as a soothing mechanism, or to heal and problem-solve.


Play therapists use these observations as a guide to the next steps. Each child is different, so therapy will be tailored to their individual needs. As therapy progresses, behaviors and goals can be reassessed.


A trained play therapist uses play to observe and gain insights into a child’s problems. The therapist can then help the child explore emotions and deal with unresolved trauma. Through play, children can learn new coping mechanisms and how to redirect inappropriate behaviours.


Play therapy is practiced by a variety of licensed mental health professionals, like psychologists and social workers. Some of the potential benefits of play therapy are:

  • taking more responsibility for certain behaviours

  • developing coping strategies and creative problem-solving skills

  • self-respect

  • empathy and respect for others

  • alleviation of anxiety

  • learning to fully experience and express feelings

  • stronger social skills

  • stronger family relationships


Although people of all ages can benefit from play therapy, it’s typically used with children between the ages of 3 and 12. Play therapy may be helpful in a variety of circumstances, such as:

  • facing medical procedures, chronic illness, or palliative care

  • problem behaviours in school

  • aggressive or angry behaviour

  • family issues, like divorce, separation, or death of a close family member

  • natural disasters or traumatic events

  • domestic violence, abuse, or neglect

  • anxietydepressiongrief

  • eating and toileting disorders