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The Hood Magazine

Play + Therapy

04/29/2019 02:28PM ● By Digital Media Director

By:  Celeste Uthe-Burrow, SoutheasternBehavioral Health

Every adult can remember a time in their childhood when they engaged in some type of play activity. Maybe the activity was playing with toy figurines, dressing up in play clothes, engaging in make-believe or playing a game of kick ball or tag. One is reminded of the joy and positive feelings that play induces for an individual. When we become teenagers and eventually adults, we leave behind the activities that once gave us joy and satisfaction, and find other activities that are similar (hobbies, sporting activities, dance lessons, etc.) to fill the void that leaving play behind, brings into our lives.

Play for children involves much more than enjoyment. It is the way in which they act out their emotions, test their ability to be successful, or experience defeat. Most importantly, it is the way they learn how to navigate the world and interact with others. It promotes the development of cognitive reasoning, emotional regulation, physical endurance, and social interaction. In other words, play is essential to the healthy development of all children. 

In recent years, play has been a topic of research regarding its importance and the negative impact children experience when time isn’t set aside for children to participate in free play. The American Academy of Pediatrics (2007) made recommendations for pediatricians to discuss with families the benefits of free play. This encouragement came from the growing number of children presenting with depression, anxiety and health issues related to non-activity and play. 

Mental Health professionals have undertaken the job of bringing play into the therapeutic setting by providing play therapy. This type of therapy has proven to be the most effective way to help children ages 0-12 deal with mental health issues before they become chronic and impact their life as an adult. Children cannot express their inner turmoil in the same manner that adults can. Through a child’s play, the toys become their words and the play becomes their language. Play therapists work with children in a play setting by watching the themes of their play, creating a safe environment in which they can work out their frustrations and challenges, and helping them to identify and develop the strengths that are inherent in each child. 

Theraplay is an approach to child and family therapy, for building and enhancing attachment, self-esteem, trust in others, and joyful enjoyment. Families are taught games and activities to enhance their interactions and build the capacity of each family member, to become a cohesive family unit that can withstand the many challenges life can present.