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The Power of Play

by Stephanie Hase LICSW, PIP, RPT

In honor of International Play Therapy Week Feb. 5-12, Stephanie Hase, LICSW, PIP, RPT shares some insights from the playroom and experiences of transformation and healing through play.

I meet a lot of therapists who upon hearing that I work with young children, immediately offer up a sentiment along the lines of “Wow, I could never do that!” or “I don’t know how people can even do counseling with kids that young!”. I sometimes hear skepticism from parents as well… “ But how is playing going to help with the difficulties we are facing at school?” or “So… you/we just play with them and things get better?”. There are a lot of misconceptions around child and adolescent therapy and using play therapy techniques in counseling.

Part of the breakdown happens naturally as our world is very adultcentric in nature. We struggle to legitimize or validate the childhood experience and how younger needs differ from our own. As adults, we have often shifted far from a play-based communication style and often have a play deficit in our lives. Shifting our focus and adapting our perspective to meet the developmental communication style of children, we know to play is crucial in order for real buy-in and growth to occur within our sessions with young clients. Imagine a 6-year-old coming into your office, sitting down on your couch, and spending the next 50 or so minutes verbally articulating the ins and outs of their experiences, emotions, and thoughts. That just wouldn't happen! Kids need alternative methods of communication that match their developmental stage and give them space to be their whole selves. Enter Play Therapy!

What is Play Therapy? Play Therapy involves different forms of expressive techniques including, play, music, art, sand tray, and movement. Sessions can be active and involve all kinds of play themes including, aggression, nurturing, mastery, control, safety, good guys versus bad guys, etc. In play therapy we operate from a child-centered or child-led perspective or we may use directive play therapy techniques to support coping skill development and psychoeducation. Either way, children are empowered because the space, the tools, and the communication, are all developmentally matched to fit them.

As a play therapist, I have had the honor of being invited into fighting off dragons and bad guys and eventually finding our way to safety. I have witnessed children discover parts of themselves that they love and feel proud of when they previously felt they were a “bad kid”. I have seen children find bravery to confront and challenge big worries that seemed like they would never go away. The power of play is really something to behold and something every one of us could use more of in our daily lives! I invite you during International Play Therapy Week to look for opportunities to add more play to your own life.

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