Who Benefits From Play Therapy?


If a child's behavior or emotional state changes, their misbehavior may 
be a signal that something is troubling him or her.  Research supports the 
effectiveness of play therapy for children ages 3-12 whose problems are 
related to life stressors such as the following:


  • Divorce
  • Grief and Loss
  • Anxiety and Phobias
  • Abuse and domestic violence
  • Natural Disasters 


Why Play Therapy?


​Play is fun! Enjoyable activities heighten our spirits, relieve stress, stimulate creative thinking, and connect people in healthy ways. Toys are the child’s words and how they put them together is their language (Landreth, 2002). The role of a play therapist is to witness and understand the language of a child’s play. As the child feels heard, healing takes place. As rapport develops; puppets, toy miniatures, sand tray, art and storytelling are used to help communicate with others, increase self-esteem, express feelings, modify behavior, and develop new problem solving skills.

Below are pictures of the play therapy room. Toys in the playroom help children symbolically express what they need to work on. For example, a child might use an alligator to express angry feelings or to overpower something that is troubling them. Using play metaphors accesses the right side of the brain, where traumatic experiences are stored. Play helps a child process and integrate these feelings and behaviors

The association of play therapy suggests the average length of therapy is 20 sessions, although some children may require less or more depending on the severity of their problem. Play occurs in stages. At the beginning, rapport is developed. Some children develop rapport on the first session, others take more time. Then children go through a Negative Reaction Phase. During this time a child may test limits, resist going to the play sessions and may appear worse as he fluctuates between healthy behaviors and old maladaptive ones. This stage may pass quickly or last for a little while. During the Growing Phase, your child will be better at resolving difficulties. This is usually the longest part of the play process. Your child may have significant gains and occasional slips as he or she is developing new skills and insights.  The last phase is the termination phase where sessions are less frequent and time is approaching to end therapy. 

The Association of Play Therapy publishes a quarterly magazine offering experiential and research-based techniques. Donna has written an article (March 2015, Vol. 10, Issue 1) which offers insight into play therapy sessions and the healing powers of sensory play.  Click the Parenting Magazine button to read this article.  

“Enter a child’s play and you will find where their minds, hearts, and souls meet” Virginia Axline

For more information about play therapy visit www.a4pt.org

Donna Bivona, LMHC
Registered Play Therapist

Play Therapy

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