What are the Different Types of Play Therapy Techniques?

Rebecca Harkin

Play therapy can be used as a confirmatory evaluating tool, allowing children to safely reveal their emotional, developmental, or psychological problems, and also as a therapeutic tool to help children overcome their problems. The main play therapy techniques are drawing and painting, clay, music, sand play, therapeutic storytelling, puppets, creative visualization, and therapeutic board games. Some of the common problems evaluated and treated with play therapy techniques are attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), anxiety, conduct disorders, and anger management.

Kids can use clay to build and destroy what they made in a type of play therapy.
Kids can use clay to build and destroy what they made in a type of play therapy.

The first play therapy techniques often used on a child are drawing and painting. In this technique, a child is given a blank page onto which they can create whatever they want, often revealing much about their inner worries and concerns. Drawing and painting is a valuable play therapy assessment tool which enables therapists to help the child literally draw connections between what they create and themselves. Music works in much the same fashion, allowing children to express their emotions and manipulate their feelings through the energy of the music. Molding and manipulating clay allows kids to build up and even destroy what they have made, expelling or physically manipulating their emotions using the clay.

Drawing and painting are good play therapy techniques for children.
Drawing and painting are good play therapy techniques for children.

One of the most common play therapy techniques is the use of story-making, which is the basis of sand play, therapeutic storytelling, and puppetry. Sand play involves choosing miniatures to manipulate within a sand tray world which the child can create and control. By listening to the story and working with the child on the course of the story, a therapist can help the child express emotions and work through their feelings. This same technique can be used with therapeutic storytelling during which a story, relating to the child’s issues, is told so that emotions can be explored using imaginary characters, and a positive outcome can be controlled. Puppets are another method for a child, or a therapist acting for the child, to safely explore a situation and control the outcome or explore various outcomes.

Play therapy may involve the use of puppets.
Play therapy may involve the use of puppets.

Some children require structures and rules in order to safely explore their feelings, and therapeutic board games are one of the play therapy techniques which afford a more structured type of exploration for these children. The games are geared to mimic a real world situation, and allow the child to safely control the outcome. Creative visualization is a play therapy technique where the child is guided to visualize positive outcomes for difficult and perhaps even anger-provoking situations. This technique is a helpful tool, taught to children at a play therapy session, and sometimes practiced alone or with a parent at home.

Therapeutic board games offer play therapy techniques.
Therapeutic board games offer play therapy techniques.
Music may be involved in creative therapy.
Music may be involved in creative therapy.
One of the most common play therapy techniques is the use of story-making, which is the basis of sand play.
One of the most common play therapy techniques is the use of story-making, which is the basis of sand play.

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Discussion Comments

bythewell
@browncoat - I agree that parents shouldn't play fast and loose with their kids' mental health, but most of these play therapy activities seem like the kind of stuff kids should be doing anyway.

If a kid gets more positive attention and is allowed to have more time to play music and draw and playact in order to help them process something, then I don't think it could do any harm.

I think the important thing is to relax and let your kids heal in their own way. Definitely take them to a counselor if they need it, but remember that kids are resilient and they will usually be OK in the long run.

browncoat

@croydon - I think that people need to be careful in how they apply play therapy for children if they aren't trained therapists.

If a child is really in need of therapy they should be taken to a licensed professional. Doing it at home might seem like a good idea, but there is a difference between having your kids color and play with play dough and trying to guide them in a therapy session.

Not to mention I'm sure parents are going to have a lot of difficulty in analyzing whatever results from the arts and crafts.

Sometimes little boys (and girls) just want to make clay skulls and draw people getting shot, because they saw it on Indiana Jones last night. I'm sure there are plenty of kids who have been more traumatized and set back by their parents over analyzing them than by anything else in their lives.

croydon
Something I do with my nephew when we can't be in the same place at the same time (like when I'm traveling, or he is staying with his father who lives in a different city) is telling each other stories on Skype.

He's still developing his spelling and language skills so, it's a really good exercise for him and I also find it really interesting the things he comes up with.

I'll tell him a story and then he tells me a story. He has to type it out in the text chat option while we are talking over the microphone. It's not exactly play therapy for him, since I don't think he really needs therapy, but he really enjoys the attention and the chance to be creative.

If you've got a child with similar circumstances, this could be a really good way of helping them without actually being there. You could just as easily have them draw you a picture and hold it up to the screen as well.

But I think the typing is good because it helps to remove the frustration they might feel at having to form letters if they are a young kid.

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