What is Play Therapy

Cute little girl during play therapy at psychologist's office

What is Play Therapy

Play is the language of children. In play therapy the child is given the opportunity to play out their feelings and experiences. Play therapy can be directive in that the play therapist can provide guidance to the child to meet the child’s goals. It can also non-directive where the child leads and decides on the direction of the play. 

Virginia Axiline, the creator of play therapy, suggests that non-directive play therapy is based on the belief that every individual has upon themselves the ability to solve their own problems and has the impulse to grow. Play therapy accepts the child for who they are, there is no judgement or pressure for the child to change, it reflects the child’s emotional expressions and offers the child the opportunity to learn about the self.

Under these conditions, the child is able to play out their feelings. Through bringing the feelings to the surface and facing them, the child “learns to control them, or abandons them.” (Axiline, 1974). Following this process, the child learns their own power to make decisions and to express feelings. 

The play therapy room is a space for a child to grow because the child is in control. They are able to do as they wish, play with any toy in any way they want, be accepted fully, test ideas, and express themselves. The therapist provides a sense of security for the child, accepts them and shows understanding to them regardless of the words, feelings expressed or the kind of play displayed by the child. The therapist helps the child to go “deeper into his innermost world and bring out into the open his real self” (Axiline, 1974).