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What is Child Centered Play Therapy?

It can be heartbreaking to see your child suffer. It can also feel difficult to know how to help them heal and work through what ever they are struggling with. Child centered Play Therapy can be a very effective way to help your child heal and grow. Play therapy is an age and developmentally appropriate counselling method use to help children struggling with many different issues some of which include; depression, anxiety, grief, loss, social adjustment, transition, parental divorce or separation and aggression. Children are not able to communicate the same way as adults. In fact, sometimes when children are asked to speak this causes them to feel more distressed. In this counselling method children use toys, art and play to communicate their internal world. Toys can be understood as the child’s words and play their language (Landreth, 2002). Not only does play help heal but it is fun and helps lift the child’s mood. Through play the child learns new ways of expressing and understanding themselves. Play helps children to connect to themselves and others in a positive way, promotes creativity and regulates emotions. Children also learn and develop most through play (Russ, 2004). Play is an important aspect of a child’s life and so it makes sense that it is also an important part of their healing process.

One of the foundational aspects of child centered play therapy is the relationship between the child and the play therapist because it is one of the most important factors is healing. The therapist creates a good relationship with the child through warmth, empathy, unconditional positive regard, acceptance, and respect. The therapist help foster a strong relationship by remaining humble, apologizing, and repairing the relationship with the child when the therapist makes a mistake. The therapist also develops a strong, supportive and collaborative relationship with the parents of their client. Parents play a huge role in helping the child heal so the therapist tries to encourage and equip the parents to help the child.

In Child Centered Play Therapy, the therapist believes that child is capable of healing and desires to move toward wellness so the therapist invites the child play or express themselves in whatever way they need. The therapist understands that the child is the expert on their experience and that the child knows best what is causing suffering. It is easy as adults to assume that we know why the child is struggling based on our experience or perceptions of their behaviors but only the child really knows. While the child is playing or doing art the therapist is making observational statements and reflecting feelings or sensations the child might be feeling. The therapist does this so that the child knows they are present with them, to help them learn how to name and recognize their emotions and to help the therapist and the child to stay regulated through the play. The therapist creates safety so that the child feels free to express their authentic self. The therapist helps the child integrate their experiences and change any perspectives about themselves, others and the world that may be distressing.

Along with healing the presenting problem there are a few other ways the child may grow:

  • Become more responsible for behaviors and develop more effective coping strategies.

  • Problem solve in new and creative ways.

  • Develop respect and acceptance of self and others.

  • Learn to experience and express emotion.

  • Foster empathy and respect for thoughts and feelings of others.

  • Develop new social skills and relational skills with family.

  • Create more confidence and self-efficacy.

  • Develop more resilience.

Child Centered Play therapy is very helpful for children who are struggling. If you have a child that is struggling, and you think that they would benefit from Play Therapy, we have therapists that would love the opportunity to help and support you and your child

Please contact us at the Airdrie Counselling Centre if you have any questions or would like more information about Play Therapy.


About the author of the article:

Adriana Schmidt, MA, Registered Provisional Psychologist

Adriana is a registered provisional psychologist in Alberta who currently works for the Airdrie Counselling Centre. If you would like to see Adriana’s profile or book an appointment with her, please click on the link below.

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