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What Is Play Therapy?

Written by Victoria Delgadillo, LAC Arizona

The Association for Play Therapy defines play therapy as “the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development” (Why Play Therapy?, n.d.). 

In different terms, play therapy is a type of therapy that believes in helping children by utilizing how they make sense of the world: play! It is primarily used for children from ages 3 to 12. This differs from regular play because the therapist is helping the child to process and work through different problems or issues they have been experiencing. The basic principle is that it can be easier for children to express themselves through activities, such as play, more so than communicating verbally. 

To learn more about ways to improve verbal communication with your child, please refer to the previous article “How Can I Improve Communication with My Child?”.

What Does It Look Like?

Play Therapy for your child can look different based on the therapist working with your child and your child’s needs and interests. Each session can vary between 30-55 minutes depending on the child’s age and developmental stage. According to the Association for Play Therapy, one can expect that it can take an average of 20 play therapy sessions to see progress or resolution on the concern the child was referred for. 

Within the play therapy session, activities such as storytelling, reading, arts and crafts, puppetry, music, dancing, movement, and/or games may be utilized to help promote self-expression, learn coping skills or social skills, and process traumatic events. In this setting, children are able to confront the problems they are facing and find solutions that are healthier, more positive, and make sense to them.

How Will My Child Benefit from Play Therapy?

Play therapy or play therapy techniques are often the first choice for intervention in hospitals, schools, agencies, and other mental health fields. While it is not the only format to work with children, it is often preferred because children are drawn to it naturally and typically find it more engaging. 

This modality can be effective when working with children that experience anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), academic issues, grief and loss, or social or behavioral concerns — just to name a few. 

Through play therapy, children can learn to:

  • Find new ways to solve problems
  • Identify and discuss their feelings
  • Develop respect and empathy for themselves and other people’s feelings or thoughts
  • Learn social skills
  • Learn coping skills for dealing with emotions both big and small
  • Cultivate acceptance of differences in other people
  • Improve relationships with others
  • Process trauma such as distressing events or upsetting changes in their lives

Can Parents/Caregivers/Family Get Involved?

Family members are a large part of the child’s life, and if they are wanting to get involved, they can speak with the child’s therapist to discuss if it would be beneficial and in what ways they can be a part of play therapy. The therapist will want to maintain regular contact with the caregivers to discuss progress and any concerns. Because it is mainly the space for the child’s treatment, there is a level of confidentiality and privacy with the child and therapist. This will likely be discussed in more detail during the first session. As a result, the therapist will want to consult with the child before including the family more in sessions. 

Can I (An Adult or Teen) Do Play Therapy in My Own Therapy?

In short — yes! This is something you would want to discuss with your own therapist/counselor. These activities are not reserved only for children. Adults and teens are more than welcome – maybe even encouraged – to use play as a way to express their emotions if they feel it would be beneficial for them.

How Can I Get My Child into Play Therapy?

When searching for an agency or therapist/counselor for your child, you can look for someone that is either trained in or utilizes play therapy techniques in their sessions. This can mean searching specifically for a registered play therapist or contacting child counselors and asking them if they utilize play therapy techniques.

If you are interested in speaking with a counselor or starting counseling services for yourself, your child, or your family, Symmetry Counseling provides services for individuals, couples, or families. We are pleased to offer online counseling services, ensuring that no matter your location or your preferences, you can speak with a counselor or therapist who can help you to put pla therapy into practice. For more information, contact our intake department today to be connected with a counselor.


Lilly, J. P., O’Connor, K., Krull, T., Schaefer, C., Landreth, G., Pehrsson, D.-E., Carmichael, K., Aguilera, M., & Hudspeth, E. F. (n.d.). Play therapy makes a difference – association for play therapy. Association for Play Therapy. Retrieved 2022, from 

Sussex Publishers. (n.d.). Play therapy. Psychology Today. Retrieved 2022, from 

Why Play Therapy? Association for Play Therapy. (n.d.). Retrieved 2022, from 

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