Play therapy: theoretical principles, uses and application

When we are adults, most of the population is able to express their concerns, feelings, ideas, beliefs, fears and insecurities through language.

We can do this because we have sufficient cognitive capacity to conceptualize and orally express abstract aspects and understand what is happening to us. This may not happen in the case of a boy or a girl, As he may fully understand reality or not know or dare to express it directly. This is the case, for example, of children who have experienced situations such as sexual abuse or domestic violence.

Fortunately, it is possible thanks to play therapy that this type of population can express their fears and conflicts indirectly. Then we will see what this form of psychological intervention consists of.

    Play as an element of communication and expression

    If we look at a group of lions, a group of monkeys, or even a group of people, we often see how common it is for actions and behaviors to appear, especially among the younger members, which appear to have no intentionality. aiming for a goal beyond pleasure. In other words, in a large number of species it is common to see gambling behaviors.

    While some people may think that gambling is just a waste of time, the truth is that gambling is of fundamental importance, especially in the period of development. And it is that these types of actions allow us to exercise and train our body and mind and develop different skills such as cognition, psychomotor skills and communication between individuals.

    In humans, play helps reduce stress levels and increases the ability to bond with our environment, helping to learn to build relationships and at the same time apply and improve our cognitive, emotional and social skills. In addition to that, it allows us to express the contents of our mind such as the things we are going through, the fears and insecurities that remain in our mind, desires and impulses.

    Many experts have noticed this fact and have established that from the game it is possible to establish mechanisms and techniques that allow to analyze and help to deal with different problems. These techniques can be used in what is called play therapy.

      Play therapy

      Play therapy is a method used in psychology for the analysis and treatment of patient problems, generally in the case of children or subjects with neurodevelopmental disorders or severe intellectual disability.

      It is based on the use of play as an element of communication, thanks to which the patient can come to externalize his emotions and his experiences in a symbolic way. Not only does it serve as a mechanism of expression, but it allows the subject process and work on information at a conscious level and even develop and / or learn ways to manage them. Its operation is apparently simple, but it requires a high level of observation on the part of the professional and the ability of the subject to feel safe and supported.

      It is generally applied in a constant manner and more or less close in time, such as weekly sessions at the consultation, at school or even at the subject individually. The therapist can direct the directive session (direct the games) or non-directive if the free play of the child is allowed.

      Previously selected materials and toys they allow the minor to express himself and from which he can establish symbolisms, Such as puppets, animals, toy houses, building elements, clay or plasticine, or musical instruments.

      There is a lot of information that can be extracted from the game. Besides the symbolism that the subject imprints on the game, other aspects that can give data of interest are the tendency to use specific games or to act in a certain way during them, if the child includes the game. therapist in the game. Either you ignore it or if you resume the parts of the previous sessions or on the contrary start a new part can be aspects to be valued.

      If creative elements are used, it is also relevant if at the end of the game he tries to keep them or if the therapist preserves them or he destroys them. The importance of all these aspects will depend on the case.

        Functions and Benefits of Play Therapy

        This type of therapy aims to facilitate the expression of emotions and situations that the child has difficulty expressing in words, either because of the trauma they cause or because of the lack of sufficient language skills for this. To do this, the game is used, through which they can express their emotions, feelings and experiences symbolically.

        The play context is also a positive climate which can promote the interaction of the therapist with the child, establishing a positive relationship which allows the patient to feel safe and to trust the professional.

        In addition, the professional’s participation in the game (which must take place from the child’s point of view and direction) allows the patient not only to express himself, but also to observe and acquire new behaviors and ways of seeing reality. that by itself might not happen. It is useful for the formation of social and emotional skills.

        Finally, this type of therapy helps the patient, in addition to expressing what has happened, to be able to treat it and then to work on it, as well as to encourage their resilience or resistance to adversity and to help use adaptive coping mechanisms and strategies. .

        Types of activities carried out

        There is a great deal of heterogeneity in the activities that can end up being performed in a play therapy session. The specific type of activity will depend on the child’s needs and preferences. between the the most common leisure techniques and activities we can find several types of methods, some examples of which are shown below.

        1. Toys based on symbolic expression

        Using a dollhouse or symbolic objects as a kitchen often leads children to represent situations similar to those they experience at home. Likewise, the use of stuffed animals and toy animals is common from which the child can play freely and introduce the therapist as he explains what is going on.

        2. Theatricalization

        Role play and the use of costumes also allow children to express their inner concerns through theatrical performances. Games of imitation or simulation of specific situations can serve not only as a mechanism of expression, but also as an exposure to conflicting situations and as a model to know how to act in front of them.

        3. Methods related to body expression

        These methods are particularly important in the case of subjects who avoid or seek excessive physical contact. In this group of techniques we can include dancing, imitation or games in which fighting or fighting is depicted (eg using toy swords).

        4. Methods related to artistic creation and construction

        Drawing, painting, and the use of clay or plasticine are also common in the use of play therapy, providing valuable insight and allowing expression of your psyche. The other games usually used are those in which the patient has to design or build something.

        You can tell a story from visual elements presented to you (for example, presenting certain objects or drawings), using stories, or using building elements such as LEGO minifigures or puzzles.

        Situations and problems in which it is appropriate

        Play therapy can be used in a wide variety of problems and disorders of various kinds, and is in fact used in many fields of intervention.

        Some disorders and situations in which it can be very useful are in the presence of emotional disturbances, anxiety, panic or low self-esteem. Children who have experienced traumatic events such as sexual abuse, Domestic violence, abandonment of one or both parents, bullying or the death of loved ones can express and process their feelings and experiences with this type of therapy. It is also useful for processing, expressing the emotions they provoke and working on phenomena such as parental divorce, changes of address or economic insecurity.

        Finally, it is also very useful in children with communication problems and minors suffering from disorders such as ADHD, obsessions, autism, eating disorders or mood disorders like depression.

        In general, this type of therapy results in a decrease in fear and anxiety, an increase in the feeling of control, self-confidence and social skills, and the generation of new ones. perspectives and adaptation strategies, In addition to a substantial improvement in mood.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Landreth, GL. (1991). Play therapy. New York.

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