Play as therapy has been an accepted treatment method for various childhood problems ever since
it was first introduced by Virginia Axline in 1947. It is not merely having the opportunity to play freely
but encompasses other elements under the care and in the safe environment provided by the trained
play therapist. While freedom to play in whatever manner the child wishes is an integral part of child-
centered play therapy, the trained therapist uses a large assortment of carefully selected toys and
provides the essential ingredients of unconditional acceptance of the child, modeling for parents,
reflective listening, and interpreting the meaning of play.
Consider these comments by some of the experts in the field of play therapy:
Charles Schaefer, Chairman of the Board of the Association for Play Therapy, wrote in his book
entitled The Therapeutic Powers of Play, “Play is a universal behavior in children." “Play has the
power not only to facilitate normal child development but also to alleviate abnormal behavior. Play
therapy can be defined as an interpersonal process wherein a trained therapist systematically
applies the curative powers of play to help clients resolve their psychological difficulties."
Garry Landreth, another leading play therapist, wrote in his book entitled Play Therapy: The Art of
the Relationship, “Play is the singular central activity of childhood, occurring at all times and in all
While some experts say that play is a child's form of work; others say that play is the opposite of
work. Regardless of how play relates to work, it is the way a child learns to make sense of his or her
world. By trying out roles, re-enacting important events, practicing nurturing skills, exploring different
themes, and pretending to have various experiences, all within a safe, nonthreatening environment,
the child can build confidence, resolve emotional conflicts, and develop one-on-one social skills.
To help us understand the power of play therapy, Charles Schaefer also provided the following list of
therapeutic factors it provides:
1.) Overcoming Resistance – Play is the best way to build rapport with a child and establish
a therapeutic relationship.
2.) Communication – “Play is to the child what verbalization is to the adult – the most natural
medium for self-expression” (p. 6). Play gives children the chance to enact the thoughts and
feelings which they cannot express in words. Play also provides insight into the inner world
of the child.
3.) Mastery – A child develops self efficacy by mastering his environment and learning that what
he/she does makes a difference in the world.
4.) Creative Thinking – The use of creativity and flexibility help the child develop problem-solving
skills—especially pretend play.
5.) Catharsis – Strong emotions can safely be played out without harm to others within the safe
environment of the play therapy room.
6.) Abreaction – Children can recreate past events, release appropriate affect, and gain mastery
over the situation by producing a different outcome.
7.) Role-Play – Children can try out different behaviors and identities. They can experience what
it is like to be a hero one day and a villain the next.
8.) Fantasy – Play facilitates the child’s imaginative and creative abilities. “Pretending gives a
child power over the world, even when he does not have much control in real life” (p. 10).
9.) Metaphoric Teaching – This involves myth-making which communicates with the right side of
the brain. It provides a means to changing unrealistic expectations.
10.) Attachment Formation – Play that involves touch and smiling helps form the natural
attachment with a child. It involves shared sensorimotor activities and appropriate forms of
touch which evoke feelings of intense pleasure and fun in the child.
11.) Relationship Enhancement – The therapist should be warm, caring, and accepting. This is
best accomplished when the goal of play is fun rather than achievement.
12.) Enjoyment – The experience of positive affect is uplifting and decreases anxiety. “Play is
free from external demands, obligation, and serious intent” (p. 12).
13.) Mastering Developmental Fears – Play incorporates a form of systematic desensitization.
The child can be exposed to a fearful situation, and the fearful or anxious feelings that would
otherwise accompany that experience are reduced while relaxing and experiencing the
pleasure of fun in play.
14.) Game Play – Many therapeutic board games are now available which provide children with
opportunities to practice cooperative play, practice problem-solving skills, and not have to
be concerned with winning or losing.
IF YOUR CHILD IS HAVING BEHAVIORAL PROBLEMS, EMOTIONAL PROBLEMS, OR HAS
EXPERIENCED SOMETHING VERY FRIGHTENING OR TRAUMATIC, CALL 719/473-9200
TODAY TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT HOW PLAY THERAPY CAN HELP.