Play therapy: A safe environment mentally and physically

Being able to provide a setting in which a child can be entertained, and feel comfortable has been an issue that all parents have to handle in general. When serious issues plague a child to a serious degree, where the child has difficulty communicating or accumulates high amounts of stress, then there are options that parents can explore to free the child from these issues. One option that has been around for a very long time is “play therapy”. However, what is play therapy? When was play therapy established? What does play therapy consist of? Age groups, methods, and more will be answered in this article below.

What is play therapy?

Play Therapy is structured around the child being in an environment that they are free to play with toys. Even though this may seem a bit odd, it is mainly done to have the child express their inward feelings, and emotions through how they play with the toys, and what they discuss with the therapist during these sessions. Through providing this kind of therapy, the child is able to talk about their thoughts without the worries of expressing themselves in an uncomfortable environment. This also opens up the child to take part in uncomfortable situations during playtime in which allows them to figure out how to assess, and handle these difficult situations without regressing to other developmental stages, and holding it all within. This is especially effective with a child that has been getting in trouble in their own personal life, such as school, or at home, and highlights what may be the primary reason for why they act up in these environments.

“Play is the highest development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in the child’s soul…children’s play is not a mere sport. It is full of meaning and import.”

Friedrich Frobel

Age Groups

This kind of therapy does benefit anyone that has the mental capacity that a child does or has issues that primarily revolve around unresolved childhood issues, but it is traditionally used for children at the age of 3 to 12 years old (Carmichael, 2006; Gil, 1991; Landreth, 2002; Schaefer, 1993). Since this type of therapy centers around playing with toys, it makes sense for the age group to stay around 3-12, however, this might have to shift with the generations children now focusing on electronics, instead of toys. Depending on how the market for toys continues to either grow or dissipate, will show where this therapy will go in the future, but the interaction between the child and the toy (or playful methods) is the primary catalyst into attaining the information needed.


Even though there might be a change coming up within play therapy, the therapy itself has been able to adapt and shift towards being beneficial in the therapy community for almost one-hundred years. However, when it was first formed, it was not called play therapy, and the playing aspect was merely a technique used during therapy to observe children express emotional and cognitive processes through play. Play therapy was more so a technique for forty years through the 1920s into the 1960s, with Carl Rogers being a pioneer for this therapy, with establishing a model of psychotherapy that focused on the client and led to psychologists later on forming play therapy in order to get a perspective on children’s emotions. Anna Freud with other established psychologists such as Melanie Klein, and Margaret Lowenfield, led to the formation and popularity of play therapy as a therapy practice, and in the 80s became largely popular in certain countries, such as the United States, and Britain.

Most of the remaining research done in this particular field are primarily conducted in Britain, with the British Association of Play Therapists (BAPT) leading in providing courses for students to attaining a master’s degree in this field, and afterward, have their students dedicate their time to research other aspects of play therapy.


Filial Play Therapy – the primary caregivers are educated on certain therapeutic methods that can help them be a part of the therapeutic process, and also understand their children more. However, this does not mean that they will be the therapist during sessions, and are there for educating themselves and enhancing their parenting skills. This is highly effective when it comes to restoring the relationship between the parent(s), and the child, and can also be therapeutic for the parent themselves as well.

Nondirective play therapy – this therapy has the child lead the direction of where the therapy is going to go. Occasionally used with adult therapy when there is a sense that the person will guide themselves to a better place if the therapist believes that they can. In play therapy, this is mainly viewed from the perspective that a child will want to achieve some certain type of well-being, and will do so throughout the therapy sessions. However, this is not as seen as much in play therapy, since most children that are evaluated are to a large degree lost, and possibly misguided, which has it appear in special cases.

Directive play therapy – this therapy is based on the idea that using directives or guides will cause a faster change that in nondirective therapy. Therapists choose the games and define the underlying stories and directives. Children are given themes and character profiles to follow based on their own experiences. The therapist plays a bigger role and the child has more room for free expression.

Sand tray play therapy – the child is given a tray with sand in it, and are asked to create, and do whatever they want with the sand. Through this, there is a focus on seeing how the child is dealing with certain situations that arise, and how they go by dealing with them. This is an effective method when it comes to handling past situations. Recently, there have been variations with it using Lego blocks (primarily for autistic cases), or sand play therapy that looks at what the child does not do, and the therapist assesses them through those observations.

Involvement in Play Therapy

As aforementioned, there are certain therapies that educate the parents or have them become partially involved in the whole process, but for the most part, it can be stressful for the parent to have their children be involved in therapy, to begin with. This is avoided for the most part, with the therapist discussing with the parent occasionally what they can do at home to reduce or manage stress for the child, and inform how the child is progressing at home. Play therapy can serve as a way to manage the frustrations of learning disorders such as dyslexia and dyscalculia.


Since each session for any particular child can turn out to go differently, there is a period of 6-8 sessions that are taken into account before seeing where the therapist will take the therapy. How they will set up the room, which therapy style they will use, how many meetings they feel the child should have, and even how long each session should be, are taken into account. When it comes to averages of how long the sessions tend to be, they last for about 30-50 minutes, while also having an average of 20 sessions, with one session being held weekly.

Childhood Now-Role of Social Media and Play Therapy

Being able to understand childhood from a perspective of today’s youth is difficult. Children focus on the fun perspective of being young and not the meaning of everything they are exposed to. However, an adult is able to highlight what are the primary exposures, and through paying attention, can see how these impact children.

With social media, there is a culture fixating on expressionism through what the person posts on them, and what they follow. With a child, this is more apparent, since there is less of a filter system for what they show to others, once they are allowed to have a social media account, and they express whatever is on their mind, and what they find intriguing. This might correlate at times with what is trendy, and subjugates the child to feel like they should also find it important.

Social media can have the child feel like they can relate with others, bring an environment that they can interact with others through talking about whatever topic they are interested in, and even be used as a learning tool. But this brings the first issue in which even though social media can be used as a learning tool, it is in large part not fully utilized, and misleads many children to believe in false information, or hate propaganda that they do not understand.

Social media also disconnect the child from person to person play time. It prevents learning how to interact with one. Perhaps play therapy can be brought to a level that utilizes social media, and even electronic devices. However, there has to be a way to include these as a therapeutic tool more than a recreational tool.

Experiences of Play Therapy

Reality Play Therapy 

Reality play therapy primarily explores children evaluating their own life, and what they plan to do in the future. This kind of therapy is mainly beneficial for older children, since it requires there to be discussions at a higher level, and also to be able to interpret the information, and internalize what they learned. This has also been a new age kind of movement, with their being more of a focus on children having more control in what they will choose to do in their life, and by being given more information, there is hope that they can make the appropriate decisions with it. This is still a theoretical type of therapy, but it is being researched on, and there are cases that discuss it fully.

Play Therapy in School

There has been also a new idea to include play therapy in schools, with counselors, and in school psychologists attaining training in this field, and being able to perform sessions with students. Many believe that it will largely benefit the youth, with having an environment that can allow them to freely express themselves. Granted with the younger children (4-8), this kind of environment is already provided to a certain extent, but having a one on one interaction is a variable that could add a lot to the perception that kids have of school. However, there always comes a time when this kind of tactic might feel a little intrusive for older children (8-12), and should be looked to be an option that the child can be provided with, but not forced to partake in.

Play Therapy, Religious Faith, and other Aspects 

Topics such as religious faith can be used as a way of understanding how a child or adolescent thinks and gives way to children expressing themselves through their thoughts on their religious affiliation. Where this can be expanded upon in the sessions, is through honing in on topics that the child particularly has many opinions on, which is most likely done in most settings, but find ones that for each child play the role as a healing component, just as religious faith is to many children (Baggerly, 2018).

Political opinions and human right debates can also be used with teenagers, however, these have to be moderated and not taken to extremes since they are subjects of great controversy.

Why Choose Play Therapy

“I believe that the greatest gift you can give your family and the world is a healthy you.” – Joyce Meyer.

With all of the benefits, and advancements that are being made in this field listed, there are still a lot of families that will turn away from choosing this kind of therapy for their child, and for understandable reasons. This is a field that is adjusting to the times and is not as well-known as other forms of therapies are to the masses, but it has shown that it has withstood the test of time for all these years. Improvement and changes are what show that any particular aspect of psychology is beneficial, and with play therapy, this kind of constant adaptation shows how much effort, and care the psychologists are putting into this field.

By providing an environment that is able to get a child to understand themselves more, and connect with their families in a way that is not readily available, shows the advantages this kind of therapy has for anyone. Seeking help is always difficult, and takes a toll on a parent when they feel like they are not able to help their child, but that kind of blame can make things get worse between the parent and child relationships. It starts with releasing the guilt, and inward shame; and accept that there is a professional that will help, and care for the child in the same way that a parent can do to their fullest extent. Sometimes every parent needs a little bit of help, and there should be no guilty feeling in that.


Baggerly, J. (2018). Religious faith in play therapy: Survey findings. International Journal Of Play Therapy, 27(2), 114-123. doi:10.1037/pla0000070

Hudspeth, E. F. (2016). Play therapy in schools. International Journal Of Play Therapy, 25(2), 53. doi:10.1037/pla0000027

Lilly, J. P. (2016, April 4). Why Play? Reality Play Therapy: A Case Example

Play Therapy, B. A. (2014, March 1). Welcome to the BAPT Website.

Prendiville, C. (2015, April 24). How long does play therapy take?

Stutey, D. M., & Wubbolding, R. E. (2018). Reality play therapy: A case example. International Journal Of Play Therapy, 27(1), 1-13. doi:10.1037/pla0000061

Therapy, G. (2016, March 24). Filial Therapy.

Therapy, G. (2015, July 17). Sand Tray Therapy.