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David Martin

This is a guest post by Kim Peterson from Kim's Counseling Corner.

As a Registered Play Therapist, I get a lot of questions about play therapy, from both clinicians and the public. Below are the top 5 common questions asked about this ever-growing trend in counseling with our youngest population.

1. What is play therapy?

Play therapy is a therapeutic approach to counseling, specifically aimed at helping children with emotional, social, and behavioral problems. Play therapists use a child’s natural means of communication, play, to foster a safe and accepting environment for the child to heal and grow. Toys in a play room are carefully selected to allow the child opportunity for creativity and imagination, mastery of skills, nurturing, and real life processing through play.

2. What would a play therapy session look like?

I like to describe a play therapy session by using an analogy of adult therapy. When most people think of an adult getting counseling, they imagine someone sitting on a couch, talking to a therapist. The therapist may point out patterns in their life, help reframe certain ideas, reflect feelings, and even teach the client therapeutic techniques for their symptoms. The client feels they have a safe place to express themself, talk about intimate details of their life, and process events that have, or are currently, happening in their life.

When a child comes to play therapy, it is very much the same. Sometimes the child uses words and other times they use play or art to communicate and express thoughts and emotions. Similar to working with adults, the play therapist will reflect the child’s feelings, point out patterns, likes, and dislikes they notice. They may also teach the child techniques to help them identify feelings, cope with their anger, or socialize at school. And most importantly, the play room is set up to be a safe place for the child to express themself and process various things in their life. And as in adult therapy, a safe and accepting therapeutic relationship is key to the client’s success in therapy.

3. Who can be helped by play therapy?

Play therapy is intended to help children with a wide range of social, emotional, and behavioral problems. These include adjustment to trauma or major life changes, hyperactivity and attention disorders, anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and social skills.  The techniques in therapy will vary, depending on the age of the child, so often there is no age limitation for those who can benefit from play therapy.

4. How long will my child need to be in therapy?

The length of therapy varies for every child and there is really no way to judge how long the process will take. Many factors can play a role in how long an individual will require therapy or benefit from therapy. These include willingness to participate in the therapeutic process, consistency with attendance, past and current environmental factors, support systems in place, and the nature and duration of the symptoms.

5. What qualities should I look for in a child therapist?


Your therapist should be knowledgeable in child development, as well as in the problems and concerns you present. Specialized training in working with children, such as a certification in play therapy, is also important. Children are a very special population and require a treatment approach geared towards their developmental level.

Loves Children:

This sounds obvious, but it is too important not to include. A therapist who claims to work with children should love children! Trust me when I say that your child will know if their therapist is not enthusiastic about them or their play.

Parent Involvement:

Your child’s therapist should show a willingness to communicate with you regularly. This communication can include feedback from the child’s treatment, parenting techniques, and suggestions for helping the child outside of the session. Parents should also feel open to asking the therapist questions and sharing regular updates on how things are going at home and at school.

Coordinates Care with Other Professionals:

Children who attend school or daycare are likely exhibiting their behaviors in the classroom. In fact, many parents seek counseling because their teachers have expressed concerns and want help as well. It may also be important to communicate with your child’s pediatrician, especially if medication is involved. A willingness to collaborate with your child’s teachers, doctor, or other providers can further foster their success outside of the play room.

Establishes Good Rapport:

Just like any other relationship, you will connect with some therapists and not with others. Especially in a field when you are entrusting this professional with intimate details of yourself and your life, you want someone you are comfortable with and trust. Your child will feel the same in their sessions so be sure they enjoy being with that individual.

As a Registered Play Therapist, I believe in the power of play to foster a child’s growth and healing. I have witnessed the benefits and encourage parents to seek out a play therapist if their child is struggling. For more information on this and similar topics, please visit!