We often associate difficult emotions with adulthood and talk therapy.  But what happens when you’re not an adult and you don’t have the words or experiences to understand or verbalize what is going on?  That’s where play comes into the picture.  

Play comes in many different shapes and sizes.  And dependent on your age, play can and will look different across developmental stages!  Play is not just board games, dolls, and sports – it can also look like jokes, comedy, stories – I could go on and on.  

Play is so important in life – it even became a therapeutic modality! 

Introducing: Play Therapy. Play therapy is to children, what talk therapy is to adults.  Play is the language of children. So why would we expect to talk to them any other way?!

When children aren’t able to verbalize what they are feeling they may internalize these emotions which often manifest through their behavior. We see this when they begin to yell, have tantrums, seek attention, or withdraw.  Play not only allows children to process through their difficult emotions, but it allows them to understand and learn new developmentally appropriate coping skills. More simply, it allows them to process through their trauma or difficult emotions by utilizing symbolic expression, a language they fully understand.  Through play, toys become their words through their language of play (1). Play therapists strategically allow space for processing, and/or opportunity for learning and growth.

Children are always observing and learning.  They communicate through play and their behaviors, and learn what is acceptable and unacceptable through the reactions from others toward their behaviors and actions.   Play, in the therapeutic setting, allows a safe environment for children to not only process and learn new skills, but gain a sense of control in what can seem like an uncontrollable world.  It supports independence, exploration, and builds self-confidence, self-esteem, and self efficacy. (1)

Play facilitates communication, learning, and provides resolution. AND it is healthy for our brains – it’s science!  Play therapy has been shown to reduce anxiety, depression, and support brain plasticity. (2) Play itself releases multiple neurotransmitters {including our good friends, oxytocin and neuropeptide oxytocin} in the brain {which help support mood regulation, motivation, and building trust}, activates mirror neurons {which is correlated with building empathy}, promotes neuroplasticity within the brain,integrates left and right brain functioning {which leads to creative problem solving}, and creates a safe place to create an adaptive self-narrative . (3,4)

So let’s get out there – let’s start playing together!  Whether it be in the therapy room, at home, or in the car – we’ve all got the building blocks to bring play and laughter back into our relationships! 

*The information contained herein is not therapeutic advice nor a substitute for therapy. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any mental health problem. If you are located within the United States and you need emergency assistance please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. If you are located within Colorado you may also call the Colorado Crisis Line at 844-493-TALK (8255).

(1) Landreth, G. L. (2002). Play therapy: The art of the relationship. New York, NY: Brunner-Ruttledge.(2) Schwartzenberger, K. (2007) Developmental play therapy in the treatment of childhood trauma. California Association for Play Therapy Newsletter, 18, 1-3. (3) Bateman, C. & Nacke, L.E. (2010). The neurobiology of play. Proceedings of the International Academic Conference on the Future of Game Design and Technology. Futureplay, 10:1-8.  (4)Stewart, Anne and Field, Thomas and Echterling, Lennis. (2016). Neuroscience and the magic of play therapy. International Journal of Play Therapy, 25, 4-13.

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