Play tends to be the natural way for children to express thoughts and emotions, just as adults tend to verbalize them. Through play therapy, children can “play out” their feelings and problems just like adults “talk out” their difficulties. The play therapy relationship includes components of several other relationship types:

  • It has a parental component in that the therapist will set some limits on the child’s behavior to ensure safety in the playroom.
  • The therapist interacts with the child in his/her play activities becoming a playmate and friend.

She or he also conveys support and provides feedback regarding the child’s activities, sometimes acting as a teacher or older relative.

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Through this relationship, characterized by mutual respect and acceptance, the therapist can gradually enter a child’s world. It is the therapist’s role to assume a nonjudgmental and supportive role as the child works towards greater self-confidence and autonomy. With these developing new found skills, a child becomes more and more willing to take risks, make mistakes and learn to deal more effectively with his/her environment.

Play therapy techniques are used primarily with children between 3 and 12, depending on personalities, levels of maturity, and individual differences. It tends to be particularly helpful for children with internal problems such as fear, anxiety, guilt, poor self-image, feelings of abandonment, jealously, grief and anger.