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Play is a natural part of childhood and acts as a vital role in a child’s social and emotional development. Research has identified that an important benefit of early pretend play is “its enhancement of a child’s capacity for cognitive flexibility and, ultimately, creativity.” Play therapy, also referred to as imaginative play therapy, is defined as the “systematic use of a theoretical model that establishes an interpersonal process, in which trained therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help children prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.” Child development psychologist Jean Piaget observed that young children were largely incapable of expressing complex motives, feelings, and thoughts, as their brains had not fully developed the capability of abstract thought. Play therapy provides children with the opportunity to express complex feelings and thoughts using nonverbal and universal means of expression. Through play therapy therapists may help children learn more adaptive behaviors when there are emotional or social skills deficits. It fosters creativity by providing a safe space for children to have the autonomy to act out scenarios of their choosing. Play therapy builds on typical communicative and learning processes of children, and can help young people:

  • Become more responsible for behaviors and develop more successful strategies.
  • Develop new and creative solutions to problems.
  • Develop respect and acceptance of self and others.
  • Learn to experience and express emotion.
  • Cultivate empathy and respect for thoughts and feelings of others.
  • Learn new social skills and relational skills with family.
  • Develop self-efficacy and thus a better assuredness about their abilities.

Empirical evidence supports the effectiveness of play therapy with children experiencing a wide variety of social, emotional, behavioral, and learning problems, including children whose problems are related to life stressors (e.g., divorce, death, relocation, hospitalization, chronic illness, assimilate stressful experiences, physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, and natural disasters). Play therapy offers a creative outlet that merges imagination and reality in a way that allows a therapist to observe without intervening in freedom of expression. Play therapy encourages creativity and positive decision-making, supports the expression of emotions, and facilitates communication and problem-solving skills.

Further Information and Support

For most of us, life can be very stressful, leading us to feel emotionally charged, which can cause anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and getting stuck in a cycle of being burdened with negative thoughts. Navigating through the challenges and emotional turmoil of life can be overwhelming, but you do not have to go through it alone. Engage Treatment is a Joint Commission Accredited professional psychological practice. We specialize in treating children, teens, and young adults struggling with depression and anxiety through community-focused treatment plans that incorporate a carefully selected combination of therapeutic interventions. Our compassionate, multidisciplinary practitioners are devoted to providing the highest quality of care that helps ignite positive change and enables clients to reach optimal health and well-being. Please do not hesitate to reach out for guidance. We are happy to answer questions and provide you with any additional information. Feel free to call us at 805-497-0605 or email us at [email protected]. You are also welcomed to get in touch by filling out our contact form. We look forward to connecting and having the opportunity to discuss how we might best be able to support you.

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