What Is Play Therapy?
Everyone knows that children need to play. Playing helps children explore and engage with the world around them. More than just a tool for helping children relax, play is also important for early childhood development from a neurological standpoint. Play can also be important from a therapeutic perspective. Playing is a way for children to resolve a range of challenging issues that may arise during their development. For over sixty years, play therapy has been shown to be an effective method for allowing children between the ages of 3 and 11 to express themselves and their feelings naturally, in a comfortable setting.
There are two main types of play therapy: non-directive and directive. Non-directive involves allowing the child to play naturally with a set of toys with the hopes that communication and expression of issues will arise naturally without being guided or prompted. Directive involves more engagement from the therapist, who becomes active in the play and will lead the child toward a specific subject or topic to help facilitate the acknowledgement and eventually resolution of underlying issues.
Sandplay and Sand Tray Therapy
One variation on the theme of play therapy is sandplay therapy. In sandplay therapy, a client is tasked with creating a contained environment to reflect their imaginary world using sand, water, and miniature objects in a container. This type of therapy is also known as sand tray therapy or the World Technique. The idea is that by creating an imaginary world, the individual creates a reflection of their life and challenges, and can use it to overcome and resolve issues. Sandplay is typically a non-directive technique, where clients are free to explore and create on their own, while sand tray therapy typically utilizes more direction and influence from the therapist.
Susan Falck is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Registered Play Therapy Supervisor at PlayWorks Counseling, who uses Safari Ltd® figures in her sandplay sessions. According to Susan, they help children to “express their thoughts, feelings and experiences.” She continues, “The toys and figures can also be used to create a world or story in the sand tray. All the animals, fantasy figures, various peoples and groups are perfect for use in any play therapist’s playroom.”
TOOBS® can be a valuable tool for sandplay and sand tray therapy. These miniature items can incorporate easily into a sand tray environment, and the wide variety of TOOBS® allows for a huge range of possibilities in world creating. Many TOOBS® focus on various animals, but there also offerings that include vehicles, people, buildings, household objects, plants, and fantastical creatures. Using these miniatures, children and adults alike can create and express themselves using a broad range of items. For older children (Ages 5+), Good Luck Minis® are another great option for mini sand tray therapy exercises.
Child-Centered and Filial Therapy
Other variations in play therapy include child-centered therapy and filial therapy. In the former, children play by themselves and are observed to assess their specific needs. In filial therapy, parental interaction is involved, with one or both parents engaging in play with the child.
Susan keeps Safari Ltd® figures displayed in her play room “for children to choose when they wish to play dramatically on the floor, or in the sand trays [she has] available for them to express their thoughts.” This represents an example of child-centered therapy, by letting the children do the selection and channel play in their own direction.
One style isn’t necessarily better than the other; the style you choose should be determined by what you hope to observe and assess with the therapy. While filial therapy can help families form closer relationships by allowing the children and parents to engage in play together, child-centered therapy may allow children to express thoughts and feelings they may not feel comfortable addressing in the presence of parents.
Why Play Therapy?
Some may pose the question: Isn’t play natural? And thus, why is play therapy necessary when can engage in play by themselves in their own time? And it’s true, play is important, and engaging in regular play is absolutely beneficial to their social, emotional and physical development. However, dedicated play therapy ensures that this takes place by setting aside regimented time devoted strictly to play, without interruptions.
Additionally, play therapy ensures that uninterrupted play can be observed by professionals, or parents trained by professionals in the case of filial play therapy, who are aware of which cues and behaviors to look for to interpret and uncover underlying issues. While it may seem like a simple solution, play therapy can be an important tool in uncovering and addressing challenging issues in children, and Safari Ltd® toys can help to spark a child’s imagination and encourage them to begin engaging in the important act of play.