How Play Therapy Works

Play has been viewed for years as the language children use to understand their world until they gain a greater mastery of spoken language.  Children are often confused about the realities of life, having emotions, and being effected by adult relationships.  The difficulty for them, though, is their inexperience, lack of words to express their feelings, and underdeveloped strategies for coping with stress.  Throughout our lives we develop the skills necessary to work out our relational and emotional problems, as we have the language capacities to express what we think and feel, and we even experience a sense of relief by talking out and thinking through our problems.  The same principle holds true for children, and it helps when someone can “speak their language,” by helping them identify specific themes and offering alternative ways of responding to their stressors.

Play therapy is conducted in a special playroom designed for this type of therapy.  This room becomes very important to children, because they are allowed to explore their ideas and feelings in a safe environment with an adult’s full attention.  The sense of privacy the playroom affords is very important for children, because they can feel safe enough to express and work on feelings that most of the time they work hard to hold back.  The play therapy room is also important to protect the confidentiality of information that comes out of the therapy process.  Most of what occurs will only be discussed between Dr. Sellwood, the child, and the parent, with the exception of court orders.

Play therapy most often occurs with just the child and their therapist in the playroom, though a parent or guardian can be included if Dr. Sellwood feels it would be beneficial to the child and/or therapeutic process.  The play is directed by the child and revolves around specific issues, ideas, and feelings that the child may be ambivalent or confused about.  Dr. Sellwood’s training includes knowledge about how children with certain worries play out different themes and how to respond so these issues can be resolved within themselves. 

Some factors that make the relationship between the therapist and child different from others are: 1). The therapist is somewhat removed from traditional role expectations.  Children know what to expect from a teacher or a parent, but the therapeutic relationship is different.  The therapist also has the luxury of being the one adult who does not have a responsibility to discipline the child on a regular basis. 2).  The playroom has different rules from other settings.  These rules are designed to facilitate the child in feeling safe and open about their concerns.  Even very young children gain an understanding about the role of the playroom and how the “rules” are different.  3). Though children are often highly serious about their play, it is still a fun and enjoyable process that allows them relief from their stress and worries.  This experience is powerful and effective in helping children with their process of healing or change.