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Play Therapy

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Play therapy is what it sounds like, a tool that provides therapy through play. What counseling and psychotherapy aim to do for adults, play therapy aims to do for children. Play therapy encourages the expression of a child’s feelings, experiences, and cognitive functioning. It is seen as being able to be easier for young children ages 2-11 to unleash their feelings. In adults it is harder to use this therapy though. Play therapy is often used as a tool of diagnosis. Children will engage in "play behavior" in order to work out their anxieties. This is why play therapy is so useful in children.

This therapy has been around for much longer than most may think. It can be traced back as far as Plato. He was reported to say about play therapy "you can discover more in an hour of play then you can in a year of conversation". In modern time it was who else but someone named Freud who would be one of the first recorded cases in modern time using this therapy.

Freud was known to apply psychotherapy to his own children. This then lead to his daughter becoming a psychotherapist. She however dealt more with just children then all ages. She in 1927 was a counselor in a school creating healthy development in children with mental disabilities.

Freud identified her theories of play as a repetition of symbolic games being the "ego's" attempt to repeat actively a traumatic event, which had been experienced before. This allows the child to get passed the event. From this an analysis can be developed which used play to interpret the child's unconscious motivation. The two people who were the front runners for this development are who we have talked about (Anna Freud) also Melanie Klein from their work with neurotic children.

Anna Freud looked for the unconscious motivation behind imaginative play, drawings and paintings, dreams, daydreams, and all the little games that children play. She emphasizes the importance of the relationship between the therapist and the child. Melanie Klein had demonstrated the way that children played with toys revealed the beginning stages of infantile fantasies and anxieties. She also observed how children's unconscious thought could be understood by their actions. These views were different from Anna Freud. She felt that given the right conditions, the child's free play, as well as whatever verbal communications he/she is capable of, could serve a purpose similar to that of free association in adults.

Melanie Klein found that even though children do not have a sense of illness as adults do, they suffer from acute anxieties. Her play technique was conceived as a method of communication with the child which allowed her to affix to psychoanalytical principles. The first child was her youngest son, Eric. Her theory of child play was very successful and is still used worldwide today.

In the late 1940s, Virginia Axline applied non directive therapy principles to children in play therapy. Non directive play therapy makes no effort to control or change the child. The child has the freedom and room to be himself/herself in his/her own terms, exactly as he is at that moment how he is in his/her own way and in his/her own time. This is based on the theory that the child's behavior is a function of the drive toward self-realization.

The objectives of non directive play therapy are to help the child become self-aware and self-directed. The therapist actively reflects the child's thoughts and feelings, believing that when children express, identify, and accept feelings, they can accept the feelings and then are free to deal with these feelings. This in some way run parallel to how some cognitive therapy works, but it uses a different path, though the end result should both be self-awareness.

It is very important that emotional and behavioral problems are dealt with at an early stage. This is because the longer that this continues the harder it may become to reverse. If left untreated these problems may cause a child and his family a great deal of heart ache. If a child does not understand his/her behavior or does not have control over it, it can cause fear in the child and break down confidence and self esteem. This can impact on other areas of life, such as the ability to complete tasks and schoolwork, to make friends and to deal with stress. This is why the early treatment is very useful.

If you find that the child displays strange, uncharacteristic behavior, like being aggressive, destructive or withdrawn. More care must be taken after a specific stressful event like divorce, new school, birth of a sibling, death or some kind of event that may break their homeostasis. If this behavior lasts for at least two weeks, it probably is time to seek professional help. This behavior may be an saying that your child is not able to deal with what is happening and express what he is experiencing or feeling in some other way then verbal.

Children's language development is behind their cognitive development, they communicate their understanding of what is happening in their world through their play. In play therapy toys are viewed as the child's "words" and play as the child's "language". Play therapy then, is to children what counseling or psychotherapy is to adults. In play therapy the symbolic function of playing is what is important; it opens up their inner world. Experiences can be expressed more comfortably and safely through the toys provide other than using their words. The use of toys has children transfer their anxieties, fears, fantasies, and guilt to objects rather than people. In this process children feel safe from their own feelings. This makes a safe comfort zone so children are not overwhelmed by their own actions, because they are in a fantasy. By acting out through play and not words a bad or traumatic experience can be revisited in the play activity. This leads children toward an inner resolution, and then they are better able to cope with or adjust to problems.

In a relationship characterized by understanding and acceptance, the play process also allows children to consider new possibilities not possible in reality, thus greatly expanding the expression of self. In the safety of the play therapy experience, children explore the unfamiliar and develop a knowing that is both experiential-feeling and cognitive. It can then be said that through the process of play therapy, the unfamiliar becomes familiar, and children express outwardly through play what has taken place inwardly. A major function of play in play therapy is the changing of what may be unmanageable in reality to manageable situations through symbolic representation, which



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