The Role of Play in Therapy

Kierra Pauly, LPC
Kierra Pauly, LPC
June 7, 2022
The Role of Play in Therapy

When we think of play, we often imagine children and various fun activities; dolls, animal figurines, trucks, building blocks, and sand may come to mind. Play is usually reserved for times when homework and other responsibilities are done, weekends, or days off. However, play can have a valuable role in therapy sessions with children and families. Play therapy was adapted from traditional talk therapy to meet children’s therapeutic needs by engaging with them in a developmentally-appropriate way – play!

How Is It Different Than Playing at Home?

Founded on the idea that “play is the language of children,” play therapy allows children to explore their inner and outer worlds safely. Initially studied and introduced into therapeutic practice in the 1960s, play therapy has been around for many decades. Play therapy was originally developed for young children who had difficulties with a traditional talk therapy approach. It was based on research that supported the positive influences of play on children. Landreth, an expert play therapist and leader in the field, summarized play therapy’s primary outcomes as increasing positive connections to others, stimulating creative thinking and exploration, and assisting emotional regulation. While different approaches and techniques are used today, its founding principles and purpose have remained unwavering.


Through the use of toys and creative expression, children can practice language and communication skills, identify coping skills, express emotions and needs, explore social norms and expectations, problem-solve solutions to different challenges, and make sense of their past interactions or situations.

Play therapy can have the following effects on children:

  • Increase the expression of emotions and feelings
  • Strengthen emotional regulation skills
  • Alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression
  • Develop adaptive coping and distress tolerance skills
  • Practice impulse control
  • Work on social skills (turn taking, role plays)
  • Increase in ability to problem-solve
  • Take responsibility for their actions
  • Create closer relationships with family and peers

Is Play Therapy Right for My Child or Family?

Play therapy might be worth exploring if your child has difficulty with traditional therapy. It has proven effective for children with intellectual and learning disabilities, behavioral problems, mental health concerns, and trauma backgrounds. Play is primarily used for individual sessions but works best when parents, guardians, or caretakers are involved in their child’s therapy services. Play can be used in therapy sessions to increase engagement and positive outcomes for all children, but is primarily used between ages 3-12.

If you would like more information on play therapy and how it might benefit your child’s emotional, social, or behavioral development, contact our office to schedule an appointment with one of our child therapy specialists.

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