Play is the language of children and through this creative and emotionally expressive “language,” a child approaches the issues that most impact his/her life. Play therapy is a therapeutic modality that uses the language of play along with the language of words. In a therapy session, a child may use play to express his/her issues clearly and directly; for example a child with medical problems may play doctor repeatedly, thus gaining mastery and control of an anxiety producing situation. Sometimes the child uses metaphor and fantasy; for example, a child whose parents are involved in a custody struggle, may play out a battle scene with dinosaurs and tigers in which neither side wins. The child may or may not own the story as representing his or her actual life experiences, but the play itself is healing, just as talking though a difficult problem with a therapist is healing for an adult. Because children are more relaxed, comfortable, freer and thus safer, play therapy is the modality of choice for children up to the age of 12. Once a child expresses and addresses his or her problems through play, it will be easier for him or her to find a long lasting solution in everyday life, just as talk therapy helps adults resolve issues in their life.
Parents are the most important people in a child’s life and it is the parent-child relationship that is the primary one. In play therapy, parents and the therapist work together from the first session. Parents learn how to enter their child’s world through a certain kind of non-directive play therapy called Child Centered Play Therapy. As a result they have more tools to understand their child; additionally they learn helpful ways to set limits and provide structure. Parents essentially become the healers of their child. The therapist acts as both a professional helping with the child and family issues and as a coach by teaching skills that apply to conducting “special playtime” and generalize to daily life. In return the child benefits by the deepened relationship and stronger attachment with the parent. This kind of therapy is called Filial (meaning parent-child) Therapy.