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
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 places.”
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
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
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 ofthe 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.