The therapeutic goals of play therapy within child counseling are to establish a basis upon which non-verbal psychological processes can be better understood and to enhance the capacity of the therapeutic counselor to provide effective treatment to those that they are working with. The way in which these treatments are developed can have a profound impact on the underlying capacity of the counselor to establish an emotion-based relationship with the child that they are trying to help. The therapeutic process by which this is done is through counseling sessions between professional play therapists and children who are believed to have some issues that they need to work out. The counselors use various games that are designed in order to uncover these unconscious processes. The advantages to the use of such methods are primarily in the ability that this type of therapy gives counselors to understand basic psychological issues that the children are unable to communicate verbally. This is especially important in younger children who might not have the cognitive capacity to communicate these issues in an effective manner.
The major limitations of the use of play therapy primarily involve the counselors themselves. Due to the interpretive nature of this type of therapy there is a need for these individuals to be specially trained in order to understand the non-verbal cues that the games bring out in the children. Furthermore, the creative capacity of the counselor is also an important factor as they will have to be flexible enough to work with children in order for them to gain a better understanding of their issues. The application of play therapies are generally directed at making life better for the children themselves. Children with issues such as psychological trauma or behavioral problems can be the focus of this type of counseling. According to research, the use of play therapy can be effective when treatments involve members of the family and when the number of treatments is sufficient to provide help. Furthermore, it is assumed that there are a large number of creative ways to apply play therapy which primarily rely on the capacity of the counselors themselves.
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In looking at the theoretical concepts, principles and practices for the chosen approach it is evident that there is a profound focus on the importance of developing an understanding and empathetic relationship between the counselors and their patients. Within this view, the use of play therapy can be used for a variety of purposes in order to externalize those aspects of the child's thought processes that had previously been internalized and unseen. Play is an integral part of life for all humans. This form of counseling has been found to work for children from a variety of backgrounds and ages. “An extensive body of literature has documented the effectiveness of play therapy, as a counseling model, in working with children and adolescents” (Nigussie, 2002, p. 52). This demonstrates the importance of developing future research into the application of play techniques that can enhance the capacity of counselors to effectively promote the health of the children that they are seeing. Research indicates that it is also entailment for families to be involved in therapy. “Two factors that significantly related to outcome were parental involvement in the children’s therapy and the duration of therapy” (Reddy, Files-Hall, & Schaefer, 2005, p. 5). For this reason, it is essential for the processes of play therapy to be directed at the participation of parents and the understanding of how much time and effort will be needed for a specific condition.
Play therapy is predicated on the idea that there is a fundamental divide between children and adults in regards to communication that is difficult, if not impossible, to entirely overcome. This is due to the way that the minds of adults and children think about the world as well as the differences in their capacities to communicate. The psychological issues that children have are therefore “compounded by the inability of adults in their lives to understand or to respond effectively to what children are feeling and attempting to communication” (Landreth & Bratton, 1999, p. 1). This makes it much more difficult to overcome certain obstacles and to create potential solutions. The effective application of therapy is primarily based on the ability for the counselor and the patient to have meaningful verbal conversations with one another. Furthermore, attempting to communicate in a verbal way demonstrates a lack of regard for the mental capacities of child patients. Communicating in this way seems to indicate the assumption of “a well-developed facility for expression through speech and thus confine children to a medium that is often awkward and unnecessarily restrictive” (Landreth & Bratton, 1999, p. 1). As children, in many cases, do not have the ability to communicate complex psychological information in a verbal way, the use of techniques that can help to enhance these communication strategies is necessary.
The application of techniques to enhance the ability for counselors to communicate with children has resulted in the development of the method known as play therapy. Through the use of the adaptive strategies that play therapy provides a more consistent understanding of the inner mental processes of the children that they are working with can be established. Play therapy was designed “to change not just a behavior or symptom but broader, deeper, and more essential aspects of the child and her ways of dealing with life and its ordeals” (Bromfield, 2003, p. 2). The understanding of metaphor and symbol that is being used by children in play is essential to understand in this regard. “Play allows the child to put her conflict into a symbolic arena” (Bromfield, 2003, p. 4). In understanding this arena, the play therapist is able to create games that can objectively demonstrate their subjective realities.
Through play, children can express various psychological impulses that provide insight into the inner mental processes that are at work. The importance of play therapy therefore lies in its ability to provide relief for a variety of issues that would otherwise be impossible to assess. “The professionals who carry out play therapy have shown that play also extends to troublesome aspects of existence, including the stresses, trauma, family dysfunction, illness and other dilemmas” (Clark, 2013, p. 1). These factors can be expressed through play and analyzed by counselors that have been specially trained in order to determine the way in which their play can be seen to indicate their existence. Research indicates that the level to which children are able to commit themselves to play has profound importance in regards to the underlying psychological processes that can be brought out. “Children’s intense involvements in particular play themes can be telling indicators of underlying unresolved issues” (Clark, 2013, p. 4). In understanding how specific themes and adaptations can be result of particular mental processes a better idea of the relationship between the way that they play and the way that they think can be expressed. “Play therapy in a clinical setting enables children to address even extreme disruptions, scaffolded by an empathic and supportive adult” (Clark, 2013, p. 4). This demonstrates the importance of the counselor's role in assessing and analyzing this information and establishing a framework by which the child's psychological state can be determined. In doing so, they are given a great deal of power involving the children's future of mental health. The application of play therapy therefore involves relevant ethical issues that should be considered in regards to the roles that counselors play and the application of techniques towards their problems.
The use of these techniques is especially effective in developing a flexible framework that can adapt to the diverse characteristics that children often display. The power of play therapy lies in its capacity to overcome certain boundaries. Play is considered to be “a universal expression of children, and it can transcend differences in ethnicity, language, or other aspects of culture” (Drewes & Schaefer, 2010, p. 3). This demonstrates the capacity of play therapy to be used in a variety of situations. It can also overcome barriers such as age and cognitive ability. “The use of play helps establish a working relationship with children, especially those who lack verbal self-expression, and even with older children who show resistance or an inability to articulate their feelings and issue” (Drewes & Schaefer, 2010, p. 4). The effectiveness of play therapy is primarily derived from the level of involvement that children are willing to commit to their sessions. Furthermore, the innate nature of the games that are use in counseling creates a sense of comfort. “Children are naturally comfortable with expression through concrete play activities and materials” (Drewes & Schaefer, 2010, p. 5). This demonstrates the importance of environment in relation to counseling. The ability to make children feel not only comfortable, but also involved in the process of their therapy is essential in creating solutions tot the challenges that they face. “With the support of the play therapist in a safe environment, the child can begin to transform and integrate unconscious wishes and impulses into conscious play and action” (Drewes & Schaefer, 2010, p. 6). In understanding these actions, the therapist is better equipped to provide support.
In looking at the recent theoretical or research developments in relation to the play therapy it is evident that there is a great deal of success attributed to its methods. Recent research seems to indicate that play therapy has been effective in establishing a basis upon which therapists might come to understand non-verbal indicators of specific psychological issues. “Through the play themes and the therapist's interpretations of [the patient's] conflicts, wishes, and behaviors, [the patient] seemed to an increased tolerance of her own perceived “imperfections”” (Gold-Steinberg & Logan, 1999, p. 502). Studies suggest that when coupled with other behaviorally based models of psychological analysis play therapy is able to provide a basis upon which non-verbal representations of deeper problems can become evident. One study indicated, in regards to a patient that “without the opportunities that play therapy provided [the patient] to feel understood and to develop a sense of mastery regarding her disorder and treatment it is doubtful that she would have complied with the other interventions or made such a positive overall adjustment” (Gold-Steinberg & Logan, 1999, p. 502). This demonstrates the importance of play therapy as an intermediary between the inner psychological processes that are creating the problems and the outer physical behaviors that the counselor can focus on.
The most essential factor in the application of play therapy techniques is the abilities of the counselor to develop an empathetic connection with the child. For this reason, and environment can be created “for the child to fully express and explore self through the child’s natural medium of expression, play” (Ray, 2008, p. 166). Research indicates that the use of play therapies has been largely successful. This was true for not only those children that tended to internalize their conflicts, but also those with behavioral issues as well. This indicates that “play therapy had a moderate to large beneficial effect for internalising, externalising and combined problem types” (Ray, 2008, p. 167). In looking at the effectiveness of these therapies there are a variety of challenges that can be seen to be faced.
The need for expertise in counselors seems to be one of the most pressing issues in the field. The ability for a counselor to accurately interpret the non-verbal cues that are being given during play is essential for the effectiveness of the sessions. For this reason, there is a “critical need for an increase in the number of mental health professionals trained in play therapy” (Homeyer & Morrison, 2008, p. 217). Furthermore, as the field becomes larger, there is a need to understand the diversity that will be encountered. “Play therapists must be responsive to their clients’ culture, and as the field grows globally, the application of Western play therapy theories and practices in other cultures is another area of concern” (Homeyer & Morrison, 2008, p. 218). Children bring their personal experiences and culture to the counseling sessions. For this reason, it is essential for counselors to be well trained in how to think and react to those situations that they might encounter.
There are a variety of sources that can be seen to dictate the results of this form of therapy. The most effective solution is, however, to develop an understanding of the need for relationships and the family in promoting healthy sessions. For this reason, it is evident that “therapeutic gains are maximized when the parents are involved in treatment and when an optimal number of sessions are provided” (Hall, Kaduson, & Schaefer, 2002, p. 515). Furthermore, there is a need to consider the basic opportunities that this type of counseling can provide. Evidence suggests that “the creative potential of play therapists remains largely untapped” (Hall, Kaduson, & Schaefer, p. 522). For this reason, there is a great deal of research still needed on the subject.
The most essential factor in the application of play therapy is the professional nature of the therapists themselves. The development of research that can help to establish more effective means for promoting specific guidelines by which these individual can work in a more objective way is also necessary. The effectiveness of play therapy likely lies in its ability to enhance the ability of the counselor to understand these nonverbal cues despite their particular backgrounds or judgments. The universal nature of play is therefore an essential factor in the success of this form of counseling. The growing diversity and cultural intermingling in the modern world demonstrates the need for flexible approaches such as these. The need for counselors that are well-versed in the interpretation of games and the unconscious processes that they demonstrate is dictated by this growing demand. The influence of family-based sessions is evident in the research that has been considered. The responsibility of parents to take part in counseling with their children and to work together with counselors in order to promote the health of their patients is evident. There is a great deal of creative potential that can be seen to be expressed by this form of therapy.
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Clark, C.D. (2013). Play Therapy. Encyclopedia of Early Childhood Development.
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Ray, D.C. (2008). Impact Of Play Therapy On Parent-Child Relationship Stress At A Mental Health Training Setting. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling. Vol. 36, No. 2, 165- 187.
Reddy, L.A., Files-Hall, T.M., & Schaefer, C.E. (2005). Empirically Based Play Interventions for Children. American Psychological Association. 310.