Play Therapy: Theoretical Principles, Uses And Application

When we are adults, most of the population is able to express their concerns, feelings, ideas, beliefs, fears and insecurities through language.

We can do this because we have sufficient cognitive capacity to conceptualize and express abstract aspects orally and we understand what is happening to us. This may not happen in the case of a boy or girl, since it is possible that he fully understands reality or does not know or dare to express it directly. This is what happens, for example, with children who have experienced situations such as sexual abuse or domestic violence.

Fortunately, It is possible through play therapy for this type of population to express their fears and conflicts in an indirect way. Next we will see what this form of psychological intervention consists of.

The game as an element of communication and expression

If we observe a group of lions, a group of apes or even a group of people, it is common that we see how frequently, especially among the youngest members, actions and behaviors appear that apparently do not have an intention directed towards a goal. concrete beyond having fun. In other words, in a large number of species it is common to see play behaviors.

While some people may think that playing is just a waste of time, the truth is that gaming is of fundamental importance, especially in the development period. And these types of actions allow us to exercise and train our body and mind and develop different abilities such as cognition, psychomotor skills and communication between individuals

In human beings, play helps reduce the level of tension and increases the ability to bond with our environment, being helpful in learning to relate and at the same time applying and improving our cognitive, emotional and social skills. In addition, it allows us to express the contents of our mind, such as things we experience, fears and insecurities that remain in our mind, desires and impulses.

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There have been multiple experts who have noted this fact and have established that From the game it is possible to establish mechanisms and techniques that allow analyzing and helping to treat different problems These techniques can be used in so-called play therapy.

play therapy

Play therapy is a method used in Psychology for the analysis and treatment of patient problems, generally in the case of children or subjects with neurodevelopmental disorders or severe intellectual disabilities.

It is based on the use of play as an element of communication, thanks to which the patient can externalize their emotions and experiences in a symbolic way. It not only serves as a mechanism of expression, but also allows the subject process and work on information at a conscious level and even develop and/or learn ways to cope with them. Its operation is apparently simple, but it requires a high level of observation on the part of the professional and the ability to make the subject feel safe and supported.

It is generally applied in a constant manner and more or less close in time, such as weekly sessions in the doctor’s office, school or even in the subject’s own home, usually individually. The therapist can carry out the session in a directive way (directing the games) or in a non-directive way if the child’s free play is allowed.

Materials and toys are previously selected that allow the minor to express himself and from which to establish symbolisms such as puppets, animals, toy houses, construction elements, clay or plasticine or musical instruments.

The information that can be extracted from the game is a lot. In addition to the symbolism that the subject imprints on the game, other aspects that can provide data of interest are the tendency to use specific games or to act in a certain way during them, if the minor includes the therapist in the game or ignores him or if he resumes the games from previous sessions or, on the contrary, starting a new game may be aspects to evaluate.

If creative elements are used, it is also relevant If at the end of the game you try to preserve them or have the therapist preserve them or destroys them. The significance of all these aspects will depend on the case.

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Functions and advantages of play therapy

Through this type of therapy, we seek to facilitate the expression of emotions and situations that the minor finds difficult to express with words, either due to the trauma they experience or the lack of sufficient linguistic capacity to do so. To do this, the game is used, through which They can express their emotions, feelings and experiences in a symbolic way

The play context also represents a positive climate that can favor the therapist’s interaction with the minor, establishing a positive rapport that allows the patient to feel safe and trust the professional.

In addition to this, the professional’s participation in the game (which must be carried out from the perspective and direction of the minor) allows the patient not only to express himself, but also to observe and acquire new behaviors and ways of seeing reality that he himself might not arise. It is useful for training social and emotional skills

Lastly, this type of therapy helps the patient so that, in addition to expressing what happened, they are able to process it to later work on it, as well as foster their resilience or resistance to adversity and help them use adaptive coping mechanisms and strategies.

Types of activities carried out

There is a high heterogeneity in the activities that can end up being carried out in a play therapy session. The specific type of activity will depend on the needs and preferences of the minor. Between the most frequent techniques and recreational activities We can find various types of methods, some examples of which are presented below.

1. Toys based on symbolic expression

Using a dollhouse or symbolic elements such as a kitchen usually causes children to represent situations similar to those they experience at home. In addition, the use of stuffed animals and toy animals is frequent from which the child can play freely and introduce the therapist while explaining what is happening.

2. Theatricalization

Role-playing and the use of costumes also allow minors to express their internal concerns through the theatrical performance. Imitation games or simulating specific situations can serve not only as a mechanism of expression, but also as exposure to conflictive situations and as modeling to learn how to act in them.

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3. Methods linked to body expression

These types of methods are especially important in the case of subjects who avoid or excessively seek physical contact. Within this group of techniques we can include dance, imitation or games in which fights or fights are represented (for example using toy swords).

4. Methods related to artistic creation and construction

Drawing, painting and the use of clay or plasticine are also common in the use of play therapy, offering valuable information and allowing the expression of your psyche. Other games that are usually used are those in which the patient has to make or build something

You can tell a story based on visual elements presented to you (for example, presenting certain objects or pictures), using stories, or using building elements such as LEGO figures or puzzles

Situations and problems in which it is appropriate

Play therapy can be used for a wide variety of problems and disorders of various kinds, and in fact it is used in many areas of intervention.

Some disorders and situations in which it can be very useful are in the presence of emotional disturbances, anxiety, panic or low self-esteem. Children who have experienced traumatic events such as sexual abuse, domestic violence, abandonment by one or both parents, bullying or deaths of loved ones can express and process their feelings and experiences with this type of therapy. It is also useful for processing, expressing the emotions caused by and working on phenomena such as parental divorce, changes of residence or economic precariousness.

Finally, it is also very helpful for children with communication problems and minors who have disorders such as ADHD, obsessions, autism, eating disorders or mood disorders such as depression.

In general, this type of therapy causes a decrease in fear and anxiety, an increase in the feeling of control, self-confidence and social skills, and the generation of new perspectives and coping strategies in addition to a substantial improvement in mood.