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By Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT

I have a quick and easy activity for you. I want you to take out your imaginary crayons and paper first. Now that you have those, I want you to draw the first thing that comes to mind when I ask you to create a picture of “therapy/counseling”. Once you have your picture, read on… my guess is that many of you would have drawn a picture of a room with a couch. And, you were probably imagining a couple of people sitting in the room talking about all of their feels? Am I right?

If your “drawing” was exactly what I described above, don’t worry. And, if it wasn’t, don’t worry about that either. In fact, there were two points to my little activity. The first one is that therapy/counseling doesn’t always look like many people often imagine. And, the second is to show just how play therapy is designed to work; each person has their own unique creation based on their own unique life story.

Play therapy is most often used as a way to communicate with children when they are often unable to express their thoughts and feelings verbally; hence allowing them to create their own type of language. My favorite thing about play therapy is the fact that the children who are participating in it won’t feel like they’re in therapy at all. In fact, it’s designed to feel like only play. But for the therapist, the ways in which the children play tells them a lot about the child.

I have asked James Corbin, MSW, LSW, the speaker for our webinar VLE 3: Rebuilding Attachments with Military Children Utilizing Play Therapy, to answer some questions about Play Therapy to orient those of us who wish to know a little bit more.

What is Play Therapy?

Play therapy is a form of individual therapy primarily with children ages 2-12 (though can be used in forms with adolescent, adult, and family (filial) work as well).  It comes in two general forms – Directive – involving therapeutic games, play therapy equipment, and planned activities with a clear therapeutic focus; and Non-directive (or ‘child-centered’ therapy) which employs a humanistic, Rogerian form of non-directed play.

How is Play Therapy different than other types of therapy with children?

Play therapy distinguishes itself from other forms of ‘talk therapies’ by the employment of play therapy ‘equipment’ that facilitates expression, therapeutic action (problem-solving, role-playing, active learning, etc.) and is facilitated by any therapist trained specifically in the use of play therapy in its various forms.

What is your favorite thing about Play Therapy?

Play therapy works uniquely with children to help them to explore areas of their experience and lives in a very natural, comfortable, and familiar way.  Play therapy can be used alongside other forms of more traditional individual and family approaches to therapy.

How can Play Therapy be helpful for military families?

Play therapy is a well-suited form of therapy for military families as it allows children to express, explore, and solve their own problems with separation, loss, and other issues that are unique to military families.

Is there a certification that a person must have in order to use Play Therapy techniques?

No.  However, a therapist must have training from a Registered Play Therapist or Registered Play Therapy Supervisor in order to incorporate play therapy into their approach.  See the Association for Play Therapy website for more details in this regard.

What do you tell people when they have doubts about the effectiveness of play therapy, contending that it is “just playing”?

I encourage family members and those who are not familiar with play therapy to conduct a bit of their own research on this unique form of therapy and whether it may be a good match for their family member or client’s needs. 

If you would like more information on play therapy, you can go to the Association for Play Therapy website and you can visit our learn event page  where we will have the link to the webinar presented by Mr. Corbin along with additional learning materials.

James Corbin, MSW, LSW has served as full-time clinical faculty and instructor in the Graduate School of Social Work at Temple University. In Fall of 2014, he was appointed as the MSW Program Assistant Director. Additionally, he is the Clinical Director and Lead Developer of the Family Center at Temple University Harrisburg. He is a volunteer therapist for Give An Hour and is an active member of PACares and the Harrisburg Regional Planning Team for Operation Military Kids. His recent work includes the development of the College of Public Health/School of Social Work’s online postgraduate Certificate in Military Counseling program. 

Blog Image: Photo from pixababy [hand hands finger light trust 1008103 by HolgersFotografie, October 26, 2015, CC0]