Play Therapy Myths: Debunked
So your child’s therapist tells you that your child might benefit from play therapy. You might be thinking, “What on earth is play therapy?” There is much confusion and differing assumptions about what play therapy is. I’m sure you have questions of your own, which is likely why you clicked on this blog post in the first place! Well, you have come to the right place! I hope to help you come to a better understanding of what play therapy really is, what your child would experience, and what you could expect. Let’s debunk some of the myths about play therapy!
Play and other non-language forms of expression are the way we first express our selves and learn as infants & toddlers. Language is added later in our development and it is encompassed by all kinds of rules and assumptions. Play, however, comes very naturally to us. In play, there is no need to find the perfect words to convey what one is feeling inside. That’s why it is such a great means of therapy with children. Play is the language through which children communicate, and the different toys or figurines used can be the child's words. At Re.Pose Therapy, play and other forms of expressive therapies – such as sandtray, art & body movement – offer children many creative ways to freely express what is inside of them, to discover new solutions, and to grow.
Myth #2: “You’re going to hyper-analyze every small thing my child does & read a bunch of stuff into every little toy.”
This is a completely understandable fear, and one that I am careful to not engage in. Instead, I focus attention on overall themes that are occurring, while not jumping to any assumptions. I seek to remain open, curious, and tentative in anything I observe. This is one of the reasons that it is so important for me to work with a child’s caregivers throughout therapy. My aim is to take into consideration both your own observations as the parent, and the themes observed in play, in order to discuss the child's needs and how we can meet them.
Traumatic experiences are often trapped in the part of the brain that is responsible for images and emotions—the right hemisphere & hind brain (Stein & Kendall, 2004). The parts of the brain responsible for language, reasoning, and other executive function—the left hemisphere & prefrontal cortex—actually shut down (Gil, 2006).
At this point, you might be thinking, “My child seems like he isn't reasoning well and struggles to communicate easily, but they haven't gone through any kind of severe trauma!” However, trauma-researcher, Bessel Van Der Kolk, has found that trauma is based on perception; what feels ‘traumatic’ for one person might be completely different for another. He describes trauma as the debilitating sense of being completely out of control and unable to regulate arousal and emotions. Of course there is much more to this, but my point is to show that there are a variety of ways that your child could experience trauma. Because of this, being able to utilize the metaphors and images of expressive therapies allows us to access the trauma-impacted parts of the brain and engage traumatic material. Working with metaphors also creates a sense of safety for the child by reducing the defense mechanisms that might otherwise rise up and shut down any therapeutic work. In other words, using play, art, or the sandtray allows us to access those traumatic experiences and process them more effectively.
Family play therapist and trauma specialist, Eliana Gil, explains that play can also provide children with a sense of empowerment and control since they have control over the toys, the story of the toys, and how it plays out. This is then translated to real life where the child can begin to feel a greater sense of empowerment, control, and a greater capacity to problem-solve in difficult situations. Being able to access traumatic experiences is required to bring them to the surface of the child's awareness. From there we can help the child think more logically about them and come up with solutions. Over time this process allows the trauma-impacted parts of the brain to better integrate with the parts responsible for language, logic, reason, and other executive functioning. By this means, play and other expressive therapies actually allow the whole brain to process, heal and grow!
Myth #4: “It’s pointless wasting my time & money on therapy if my child is just going to play. They do that at home already.”
The assumption behind this myth is that play therapy is just like any other playtime the child has at home or school. As the therapist, however, I make sure to provide an environment that is safe and open for your child to express their difficulties. Therefore, play therapy is different because the purpose of the play is to express what is happening for your child. Additionally, I also use specific directions and at times guide specific play for the purpose of learning new perspectives, of healing, and growing.
I hope this was helpful for you and maybe answered some of the questions you might have about play therapy! If you have more I would love to talk with you. If you’re considering counselling for your child and/or family, I would love to meet with you! I believe it is so important for whatever therapist you choose to be a good fit for your family. At Re.Pose Therapy, we offer free 30-minute consultations so that you can see if we are a good fit for your family and to ask any questions about how that therapy might look.
If you would like to contact me my direct number is 604-751-2334, or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are not interested in therapy at this time, or your child is already seeing another therapist, I hope that you benefited from this post! :)