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Play Therapy FAQ’s

As a play therapist, there are many questions that I get regarding the work that I do. Today, I am going to tackle the most frequently asked questions regarding play therapy. Comment below with any questions that you have about play therapy and I can add it into the post!

What is play therapy?

Play therapy is a developmentally appropriate child therapy intervention utilized by mental health professionals worldwide. Play therapy differs from regular play in that the therapist helps children to address and resolve their own problems. Play therapy builds on the natural way that children learn about themselves and their relationships in the world around them through the language of play. As stated by the father of play therapy, Gary Landreth, play is a child’s language and the toys are their words. Through play therapy, children learn to communicate with others, express feelings, modify behavior, develop problem-solving skills, and learn a variety of ways of relating to others. Find more about the history of play therapy on the post “The Definition of Play Therapy.”

What population is best for play therapy?

Play therapy works best for children ages 3-10 with a variety of diagnoses, including ADHD, anxiety, depression, trauma, ASD, and more. Play therapy can also be utilized in family therapy and with individuals with developmental disabilities.

What is the length of treatment for play therapy?

As with any form of therapy, this is variable. I have worked with children that terminate in 10 sessions and children requiring more than a year of sessions. Research suggests that it takes an average of 20 play therapy sessions to resolve the problems of the typical child referred for treatment. Of course, some children may improve much faster while more serious or ongoing problems may take longer to resolve.

What do you do in a play therapy session? 

There are many different theoretical orientations that are associated with play therapy. The most common is Child-Centered Play Therapy (CCPT), which is based on Person-Centered Theory. Traditional CCPT consists of a child and mental health professional working therapeutically in a play room with specific toys. In the room, the child is in charge and takes the lead in the play. The therapist reflects the child’s feelings, tracks the child’s movements, and sets limits and boundaries in order to keep the child safe.

Is play therapy evidence-based? 

Contrary to popular belief, play therapy IS evidence-based. Click HERE to get information from the Association for Play Therapy regarding play therapy research.

Does play therapy actually work? 

Play therapy has been shown to assist children in overall functioning, disruptive behaviors, aggression, Attention Deficit, Trauma, PTSD, Anxiety, Autism, attachment difficulties, academic progress, relationship stress, emotional disorders, internalizing problems, developmental issues, somatization problems, negative home environment, self-concept, social-emotional assets, and loss and bereavement.

How do you become a play therapist? 

There are a few routes to becoming a play therapist. This can be done through the National Institute for Relationship Enhancement (NIRE), the Association of Play Therapy (APT), or both. There is more information on how to become a play therapist on my blog post “2 Ways to Become A Play Therapist.”

What kind of toys do you need in play therapy? 

In CCPT, there are three categories of toys that are required, real life/nurturing toys (ex. doll house, baby doll, puppets, cars, medical kit), aggressive toys (ex. toy swords, rubber knife, scary animals), and creative expression toys (ex. coloring utensils, paper, scissors, dress up clothes).

Why do you use aggressive toys in play therapy?

Aggressive toys assist the child in releasing their pent up anger, sadness, or other difficult feelings. It is believed that the play room gives the child a safe place to release this anger. It is also believed that children understand the disconnect between the play room and the real world, limiting the risk of bringing the aggression outside of therapy. Read more about aggressive toys in my post “Aggressive Toys in Play Therapy.”

Does play therapy have to happen in a play room? 

Not at all! Although CCPT traditionally encourages therapists to utilize playrooms in their work, CCPT can also be used in community-based settings. I have personally done great therapeutic work in homes, schools, libraries, and (my personal favorite) in the back of a car. The core of play therapy is relationship between the client and clinician and that relationship can be fostered almost anywhere!


Play On!



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