Play Therapy

Play Therapy is a specialized form of counseling designed for children to express themselves and resolve emotional, behavioral, and social difficulties through play. In this non-directive approach, trained therapists observe and engage children in play activities to understand their inner thoughts and feelings.

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Play Therapy helps children process traumatic experiences, build coping skills, and improve communication, as they naturally use play to communicate and make sense of their world. By providing a safe and supportive space for exploration, Play Therapy empowers children to navigate challenges and achieve emotional growth and healing.

What is Play Therapy?

Play therapy is an engaging form of psychotherapy that utilizes enjoyable activities as a means to achieve mental health goals. It is most effective at helping children through various challenges but is also beneficial for some adults who prefer an activity-based form of treatment. Children are often unable to share their feelings through typical channels of communication such as speech and depend on playing as a means to express themselves. By allowing children to use play as a means to navigate the world around them, play therapy allows them to develop healthy childhood habits that promote well-being in the long run. 

Goals of Play Therapy

The specific objectives of play therapy can vary based on the needs of each child. A therapist conducts an initial session to understand the challenges that a child is facing and aims to identify the areas that require attention. They also look for the perspective of the parents of the child and understand how their approach to these issues have impacted the child. That said, some of the common goals of play therapy include helping a child with the following: 

  • Addressing specific behavioral issues or challenges
  • Cultivating effective strategies to address concerns 
  • Nurturing the ability to generate unique and innovative solutions to problems
  • Fostering personal accountability for one's actions and choices
  • Learning how to respect and accept oneself and others
  • Building empathy and understanding towards others’ feelings
  • Equipping one with the ability to find ways to express emotions
  • Learning social skills and ability to relate with others in a social group
  • Promoting self-confidence and self-esteem

Why Play Therapy?

Play therapy is an effective therapeutic approach that uses engaging play-based activities to promote growth and development of a child. Since it is natural for children to express themselves through playing different types of games, play therapy is a natural method through which one can facilitate increased expression from a child. It provides a safe and supportive environment where children feel comfortable and feel free to explore their feelings and emotions. It also enables children to better resolve problems and challenging situations, and improves their problem solving skills. It also helps with maintaining discipline, self-control and resilience. 

Types of Play Therapy

There are various types of play therapy that are applicable based on the specific challenge that a child is facing or their specific developmental objectives. 

Filial Therapy

Filial therapy focuses on training and empowering parents or caregivers on how to interact with their child in a positive way through play. Using play as a method, the goal is to bring parents and children closer together, improve communication and promote a collaborative form of emotional growth. 

Sand Tray Therapy

This is a form of therapy where a child is provided with a small box filled with sand and a bunch of miniature toys which may include animals, people, buildings, trees etc. Using the resources, the child is asked to create a scene that reflects their life and challenges. Based on how the child perceives their own situation, the therapist provides advice on how to overcome hurdles and promote the ability to be confident with oneself. 


This form of play therapy encourages a child to explore their thoughts through book reading as they are introduced to new concepts and ideas. The therapist enables the child to communicate their thoughts and feelings as they delve into different themes. 

Imaginary Play

In this form of play therapy, a child is given various types of objects such as clothes, toys, puppets such that they can use their imagination to form stories or meanings out of it. This could be directed by a therapist or non-directive, as the child’s thought patterns and creative process is taken into account. 

Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapy

This form of therapy combines cognitive behavioral therapy, a therapy that identifies behavioral patterns, emotions and other factors of well-being with a play oriented approach. As children engage in activities, the therapist keeps track of how their problem solving capabilities, coping mechanisms, emotional approaches etc improve over time. This could be done through games like interacting productively with a stuffed animal companion or other fun engaging activities. 

Play Therapy Approaches

Play therapy has two broad approaches. These are based on the amount of involvement a therapist has in facilitating the activities that a child participates in. 

Directive Play Therapy

During certain play activities, the therapist may use directive strategies to help guide a child during the session. They could do so through the application of psychological techniques such as cognitive behavioral play therapy and other methods that help improve problem solving skills of a child. Every activity is designed in a way that helps the child achieve a developmental goal. For example, a child could be playing a board game, and with each move, be asked to narrate their thought process and look to connect how it relates to their everyday life. The therapist could then guide the child on to potential alternatives. During the game, they could encourage the child to express their frustrations and other negative emotions. 

Non-directive Play Therapy

In non-directive play therapy, a child is given toys or other objects and are allowed to spend their time on it they way they choose to. They are not given any instructions, goals or guidance for the particular activity. They are thus put in a situation where they create something of their own or are solving a problem. This is a part of the psychodynamic approach where allowing complete freedom to a child helps understand their instinctive thinking process, emotional approaches and more. 

Play Therapy Techniques

Play therapy involves various techniques that help a child explore their emotions, whether it is through a directive or non-directive approach. Once a safe and comfortable environment is established, a therapist may follow one or more of the following techniques: 

  • Therapeutic storytelling
  • Utilizing dolls, puppets, stuffed animals, and action figures in games
  • Exploring creativity through block-based games
  • Expressing emotions and imagination through arts and crafts
  • Incorporating music and dance 
  • Practicing creative visualization and other guided exercises
  • Engaging in water and sand play for sensory exploration
  • Role-playing to explore different perspectives and experiences
  • Using puppets, stuffed animals, and masks in play activities
  • Engaging in writing or journaling as a form of expression

Who Benefits From Play Therapy?

Play therapy is most beneficial for children in their early to mid developmental stages, between the ages of 3 and 12. However, teenagers and adults can also make use of play therapy since some people respond to an engagement oriented therapy program better than a discussion oriented method. Infants could also potentially use this therapy, but the scope is limited as they are still exploring means to express themselves through games. 

Children are best placed to take advantage of play therapy as their conversational abilities may not be fully developed at this stage and thus, allowing them to explore their thoughts through games will make them comfortable and enjoy the process of development. Equipping them with skills to strengthen their resolve and solve problems, while providing them with the ability to make sense of the world around them has positive consequences for a child. Further, children who have experienced trauma can also use play based therapy to reshape their narrative and adopt positive thinking patterns and behaviors. 

Benefits of Play Therapy

Play therapy has shown to be beneficial for children in diverse ways. Some of the key benefits include: 

  • Managing mental health challenges and developing coping mechanisms
  • Enhancing problem solving skills
  • Improving self-respect and confidence
  • Increasing empathy and respect 
  • Expressing feelings, emotions and experiences
  • Strengthening social and interpersonal skills
  • Alleviating anxiety and other mental health issues
  • Resolving trauma related issues
  • Fostering behavioral changes

Remember that while these are proven benefits of play therapy, other forms of therapy can be used in a complimentary manner to achieve specific results including recovery from some mental health conditions. 

When Play Therapy is Used?

Play therapy is generally used when children are finding it difficult to achieve the developmental progress required or to manage any mental health related issues. However,its uses are diverse and can be applicable for a number of things. Some of these include: 

  • Trauma
  • Medical procedures or chronic illness
  • Developmental delays
  • Peer relationship difficulties
  • Family issues
  • Learning disabilities
  • Problematic behaviors
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Self-esteem issues
  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • Abuse from parent or external sources
  • Communication-related problems
  • Anger issues
  • Social skill deficits
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Eating disorders

What Play Therapy Can Help With?

Play therapy can help with a multitude of challenges that a child may face including developmental issues, problematic behaviors, ADHD, confidence issues, problems with social skills and more.  

How Does Play Therapy Work?

While different types of play therapy works in their own unique ways, the therapy sessions generally follow a certain organized pattern. Firstly, a therapist performs a number of assessment tests, normally including a non-directive play activity to track the child’s patterns and expressive means. They also conduct interviews and discussions with the child as well as the parents, caregivers or even teachers, if necessary. Once a comprehensive assessment is conducted, the therapist then designs a personalized plan for the child which includes the short and long term goals, stages of therapy, potential activities and games that will be used, and the general flow of therapy. 

Once the sessions start, the therapist plays close attention to the child’s developmental gains, and adjusts the therapy based on the progress. Play activities are conducted individually as well as with parents to get an idea of a child’s ability to express, create and engage. Through a continuous process of reassessment and innovative play activities, the therapist looks to help the child achieve their developmental or mental health goals. 

Play Therapy for Adult

While play therapy is a proven method to bring positive outcomes for children, it can also greatly benefit adults and teenagers. Although most adults lose the ability to explore themselves through play activities, play therapy can help a person engage with their thoughts and emotions in an unconventional way. Research suggests that play therapy has emerged as an effective method in helping adults achieve their mental health goals. For adults, it can also be helpful to build communication skills and build stronger relationships. Through fun games, some people are able to feel comfortable and express themselves better, compared to a typical therapy session. 

Adults can achieve positive outcomes from play therapy to find solutions for a number of issues including trauma, grief, anxiety, depression, ADHD, problems with emotional expression, dementia, OCD, issues with relationships and more. 

What Does a Play Therapist Do?

A play therapist makes sure that the child and parent or caretaker feels comfortable and safe, and aims to build an environment of collaboration as the sessions progress. Once they assess the child’s needs and goals, they provide the child a large amount of toys and other play materials and kick start the play therapy. A play therapy does not judge the child or the parent during the session and ensures that a child feels as free and confident as possible to participate in the activities. They look to develop trust with the child and help them explore their emotions in a healthy way as well as build resilience towards negative emotions. 

How Can You Find a Play Therapist? 

It is best to look for referrals from friends or family members whose respective child or children have experienced play therapy before. However, you can also look for therapists through licensed mental health organizations. Mindtalk offers authorized play therapy for children facing a multitude of challenges and empowers them through their developmental journey. It is best to conduct an initial interview with the therapist to understand their style and approach before committing to it. 


What age is play therapy most effective?

Play therapy is considered most effective for children between the ages of 3 and 12, as this is a crucial period of development and play-based expression is best facilitated during this age frame. 

Who benefits the most from play therapy?

Children aged 3-12 benefit the most from play therapy but teenagers and adults can also take advantage of play-based therapy techniques.


What is the main focus of play therapy?

The main focus of play therapy is to use fun activities often including toys, storytelling and other play based methods to help children express their emotions, feelings and experiences, promoting growth and development. 

What is the strength of play therapy?

The strength of play therapy is its ability to create a fun, safe, comfortable and natural environment for a child to freely express themselves. 

How long should play therapy last?

The duration of play therapy varies depending on the goals and the developmental stage of the child. It could go from a few weeks to several months, depending on the progress made by the child. 

Does play therapy help with behavior problems?

Yes, play therapy can be effective in addressing behavior problems in children. Play therapy enables a child to express emotions, equips them with coping strategies, and develops alternative positive behaviors. 

What is the success rate of play therapy?

Studies have shown that play therapy is impactful in helping children overcome major developmental challenges. However, its success depends on various factors including the style of therapy and how the child responds to it. 

Does play therapy help social skills?

Yes, play therapy can help enhance social skills. This could be done through social interactions during play therapy, where collaboration, problem solving, sharing and other practices are explored. 

Is play therapy only for children?

No, play therapy is not limited to children. Teenagers and adults can also benefit from play therapy if they are more attuned to expressing their thoughts through play-based methods. 

Does play therapy help with emotional regulation?

Yes, play therapy can help with emotional regulation by providing them with a safe and supportive environment to express, explore and manage their emotions.

Why Mindtalk?

Mindtalk is a leading mental health provider from the Cadabams family bringing new-age therapeutic experiences. ‍