Understanding non-directive play therapy

Understanding non-directive play therapy

Play therapy is an innovative and effective form of therapy for individuals of all ages, particularly for children whose natural form of expression comes through play. Play therapy dates back to the 1940s. It is usually done in a non-directive, child-centered format.

Self-directed, child-centered play therapy means that the child is the center of attention. They are the most important person in this setting and are completely in charge of the situation and themselves. There are no suggestions, mandates, restraints, criticisms, disapprovals, intrusions, or even support from adults. This may seem surprising, but they key to play therapy is that children are allowed to be their true selves and are fully accepted.

Children experience big feelings and don’t always know how to express these feelings in a healthy way. These feelings could be ones such as loneliness, grief, rejection, or unhappiness. This self-directed, child-centered form of therapy allows them to realize their own strengths and abilities, as well as express these big feelings in creative ways.
How long is a child usually in play therapy?

Initially it can be difficult to know how long a child will be in play therapy because a child is never held back or rushed towards a specific end in this setting. The acceptance and understanding a child will get from their therapist instills courage and allows them to go deeper within themselves to open up about being their true self.
In play therapy a child is given the opportunity to take responsibility for themselves, their behaviour, and their expression through play. It allows the child to be more mature, positive, and constructive as they take the reins in the playroom. Achieving psychological maturity as physical maturity is being reached is a key factor in being a happy, healthy, and balanced individual.

What toys are used in play therapy?

Play therapy materials that were originally used in the theory’s early development are still primary tools used in the therapy playroom today: animals (plush and figurines); a sand tray; toy soldiers and army equipment; art materials (clay, paint, colouring, paper crafts); and dolls (rag dolls, doll house, puppets, nursing bottles, doll family). The playroom now features other toys and activities such as a water table, music, dance, and children’s books that conceptualize difficult topics or emotions.
The playroom is always cleaned and reset after each session so there aren’t any toys already out to suggest what a child should play with. Every choice they make in this room is their own.

What role does the therapist have in play therapy?

Although the therapist does not direct the child in non-directive play therapy, the therapist plays a very large and important role. The therapist must be alert, sensitive, and presently appreciative of all the child’s work, words, and choices. The therapist is honest, sincere, straightforward, and calm. They are accepting of the child the entire session and never interject the play. They are on alert throughout the entire session to reflect the child’s feelings and expressions back to them during play. The therapist is extremely patient in order to give the child all the time and opportunity they need to express their inner selves.
Learning more about how play therapy works can give caregivers an insight as to how capable their child is for taking responsibility for themselves and how they can work through some big feelings without external forces suggesting or critiquing their decisions or actions.

Resources from this blog post have been gathered from Virgina M. Axline’s 1974 book, Play Therapy: The Groundbreaking Book That Has Become a Vital Tool in the Growth and Development of Children.

Written by: Olivia Holden BSW, RSW