Is Play Therapy Right for My Child?

Therapy with youth and adolescents is often very different from adults.  Many types of therapy emphasize talking and thinking about feelings and experiences, which can be particularly challenging for kids. When working with children, part of the session includes discovering how a child likes to communicate. Including using therapies that will allow your child to express themselves non-verbally, such as play therapy, sandtray therapy and EMDR.

Play therapy allows a child to use toys, pictures or books to help express their emotions. This approach is highly effective with most children and allows the therapist to interpret emotions and experience through their play. Similarly sandtray therapy allows a child to create scenes in a sandtray with a variety of toys. This provides a blank canvas for children to reenact or interpret life experiences. 

By using non-verbal forms of therapy, children benefit by increasing emotional vocabulary and intelligence.  When families increase communication about emotions it automatically increases the families ability to solve problems in a healthy way.  Parents are highly encouraged to attend therapy sessions together with their child as therapy can be a safe space in which to address the thoughts, feelings, and emotions experienced by all members.

Reasons to seek play therapy treatment include, but are not limited to, temper tantrums, aggressive behavior, non-medical problems with bowel or bladder control, difficulties with sleeping or having nightmares, and experiencing worries or fears. This type of treatment is also used with children who have experienced sexual or physical abuse, neglect, the loss of a family member, medical illness, physical injury, or any experience that is traumatic.

In my experience only about 20% of children who need play therapy are actually participating in some form of structured therapy.  All too often we fall into the trap of completely relying on medications to treat symptoms such as impulsivity, anger, hyperactivity, lack of focus, depression, anxiety, oppositional behavior and many other forms of emotional instability.  Research has proven that medication in conjunction with therapy provides much greater impact than medication alone.


Play therapy addresses psychological issues and would not be used to alleviate medical or biological problems. Children who are experiencing physical problems should see a physician. Likewise, children who experience academic difficulties need to receive an in-depth psychological evaluation in order to clarify the presence of a biologically-based learning disability. In both of these cases, psychological problems may also be present, but they may not be the primary problem. Alternatively, evaluations may show that medical or biological causes are not evident, and this would be important information for the parents and therapist to know.