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Play Therapy: What is it?

What is Play Therapy? Is it a Good Fit for Your Child?

Guest Author: Madison Gabriel, MS, LCMHCA, NCC

What do you picture when you imagine a therapy session? Maybe a client, sitting on a couch,

facing another person wearing a sweater who asks them questions such as, “And how does that make you feel?” While I do wear many sweaters, and that scene may be appropriate for many clients, it’s not always the best fit for children. It may be difficult to imagine a kid sitting on a couch alone sharing their feelings in complete, articulate sentences.

Enter play therapy.

There are numerous ways to work with children, and play therapy is just one of them. Anyone

who has spent time around kids knows that children often struggle to verbalize their feelings and instead seem to work through their emotions through tears, temper outbursts, or aggression. Play is another way children process their emotions. Typically used with children ages 2-12, play therapy allows these children to express and process their feelings with the therapist present for guidance, clarification, interpretation, and safety.

There are several types of play therapy, including parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT),

attachment theory, child-centered play therapy (CCPT), and cognitive behavioral play therapy

(CBPT). Personally, I use child-centered play therapy. This modality, specifically, is geared

towards unconditional positive regard for all the child is and allows for the child to identify what

they need to work on. While the child leads the session and the therapist does not direct

conversations or hurry the child’s process, the therapist does set limits to maintain safety and

facilitate learning and exploration of themselves along with their responsibilities and boundaries.

Play therapy, in any of its forms, is exceptionally powerful and helpful. However, it’s not a

“quick fix”. The average length of time in therapy is 4 to 5 months with weekly sessions.

Initially, progress may feel slow, but it’s power becomes evident when the therapy starts to

“click.” Play therapy offers release, improvement, and development. There are many benefits of

play therapy including:

 development of self-confidence

 fostering autonomy and self-efficacy

 mastery of fears

 skill acquisition

 processing of emotions

 improvement in communication

 development of problem-solving skills

 behavioral improvement

Caretakers ultimately want to see their child safe, happy, and healthy. There are a variety of

paths to get there many of which can be adapted to that kid’s particular needs. Play therapy is

one such avenue that speaks the universal language of every child: play!

If you’d like to learn more about play therapy, here are a few helpful links.

Madison Gabriel, MS, LCMHCA, NCC is a licensed clinical mental health counselor associate

who works with clients of all ages. She tailors her approach to each client’s needs, relying on

therapy modalities that include play therapy (age 2-12), cognitive-behavioral therapy, and a

person-centered approach. She works with clients experiencing anxiety, depression, low self-

esteem, stressful life transitions, parenting concerns, poor emotional regulation, behavioral

issues, and family conflict. 

Madison is certified in trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) and is currently

pursing licensure as a registered play therapist (RPT). Schedule with Madison at

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