Play therapy helps children deal with emotional and behavioral issues. It is most commonly used in children ages 3-12. There are many play therapy techniques appropriate for use in a school setting. Since children see the exercise as play, they are more likely to be receptive to any effort introduced to help them with their problems.
In directive therapy, the therapist directs play activities rather than letting the child figure out an activity. A therapist might have a ball for example, and instead of just letting the child toss it around as they see fit, they would ask them to move it a certain way or bounce it a set number of times. Of course, for this to be a practical approach, a child must be able to understand the directions well.
A non-directive approach is simply allowing a child to play as they want to with whatever toys or tools they are given. The therapist would be present and observe how the child expresses themselves through play. Any emotional or verbal expression would be noted. Facial expressions and other mannerisms are also important to observe at all times.
How does play therapy accomplish its goals?
A communication gap must be overcome when trying to help children overcome emotional and behavioral issues. Playing helps break down communication barriers because it allows a child a form of expression and a way to relax and open up to their therapist and loved ones. Play is fun, while a lot of questions from an adult may feel like they are in trouble, or it may just seem plain boring.
Therapists may observe how a child plays when alone, when they engage in play with the child, and how a child reacts to a parent playing with them. These observations can help a therapist make some educated predictions as to how the child is feeling and why they are behaving the way they are in other areas of their lives.
Play therapy techniques
There are a lot of different types of play that can be useful for therapy depending on the age or mental ability of the child. It is critical that play therapy is always conducted in an environment where a child feels as safe and comfortable as possible; otherwise, their behavior may be atypical and thus negate any benefit that may come from a therapy session.
The types of toys involved in play therapy include balls, construction toys like LEGO sets or blocks, dolls, stuffed animals, or figurines.
Activities could include roleplaying, dancing, exercises, musical activities, water or sand play, and storytelling or drawing.
While there are some approaches that are widely used, play therapy offers a lot of room for improvisation. Therapists are encouraged to be creative and tailor activities and approaches to each individual child. Improvising on a proven technique as needed can be very effective in helping children express themselves and get to the core of the problems they are experiencing.
Through the use of dolls or puppets, a therapist might be able to learn more about a child’s home life and interactions with loved ones. Children may be far more likely to act out scenes from their home life than discuss it openly with just words. Children that do not have a good command of language yet may only be able to truly express what is going on through acting out scenes.
Depending on the situation, a therapist may play the role of someone else during directive play sessions while, in some cases, allowing the child to play multiple roles may offer more insight.
Drawing and painting
Children can be very good at expressing themselves through drawing and painting. At the same time, it is important that therapists and parents do not read too much into a drawing or painting. Children can sometimes draw some alarming things, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are destined to be violent or do something bad. Drawings and paintings may be a way for them to express pain or discomfort from something that is going on in their lives or their heads that they do not know how to deal with.
Playing telephone offers a way to get a child to open up by asking questions and talking via an imaginary phone line. Therapists can tell a child that if they decide they don’t want to talk at any time they can just hang up the phone. A set of play phones is effective for role-playing this scenario and can make it a lot more fun especially if the child acts out dialing the imaginary number or even pretending to be a different person than they are.
Building up a structure with wooden blocks and then knocking it down can help children release tension in a healthier way and can even make them laugh and smile.
Strategy games like chess or checkers
Problem solving skills can be honed by playing chess, checkers, Battleship, Stratego, and other games that rely on planning and problem-solving to win. Strategy games also help young people develop a better sense of self-control. Of course, there are consequences for each move made in a game, so children are forced to think about the long-term consequences of their actions throughout the entire game.
Games based on chance or luck
Board games can help show children that, while they can control some aspects of their life, there are some things that are beyond their control that they must accept. No one has absolute control over every aspect of what happens in life.
Play therapy combined with other types of treatment
Play therapy is a great tool for therapists to use when treating younger people but can also be used for adults in some cases. While talking and play therapy may be all that some patients need, there may be problems that require other techniques or even medications.
School counselors and therapists may work with other mental health professionals and pediatricians to provide total support and treatment for a child.
How does play therapy help?
Play therapy can teach children to handle their emotions more healthily. For example, children with anger issues can often benefit from play therapy. Anxiety, depression, and fears are more common among children than you think. Play therapy can help counselors teach students techniques and problem-solving skills that empower them when they start to have an unwelcome emotional response to daily events.
Over time, play therapy can help children improve their communication skills. When children have a safe place to play, relax, and express themselves, they are more likely to give insight into their issues and where they are in the coping process.
Play therapy to reduce or eliminate aggressive behavior
A child might act aggressively toward others or an object for many reasons. Play therapy has been found to reduce aggressive behaviors quickly. Part of this may be due to the child’s having a safe and secure environment to play in. Aggressive behaviors can arise from competition with siblings or their peers or simply wanting an adult to pay attention to them on some level.
Play therapy encourages kids to relax and be children
In today’s modern world, there is a lot of stress. Children and teens increasingly feel this stress and worry about adult problems and situations. In some cases, this is due to their home life. For example, they may have a lot more responsibilities than the average child their age if they have to help out with a lot of chores or caring for younger siblings.
Social media can lead to anxiety in children and teens because it allows them to compare themselves and their lives to others. Younger people often do not realize or consider that much of what is portrayed online is heavily filtered or edited to give a particular image that is impossible for them to replicate or achieve, no matter how hard they try. Play therapy gets kids away from their screens.
Play therapy can encourage parents to interact more with their children
If children are expressing through their behavior or emotions that they are not getting enough attention from a parent, then play therapy with a parent present may help make parents and children reconnect and spend more time with each other at home. Attending sessions at school can help students be happier and more confident both at home and school.
Play therapy by school counselors aids in understanding
Play therapy is a highly regarded method for school counselors because it is easy to implement and is a gentle way of gaining insight into the emotions of troubled students.
Play therapy is most effective for students who are dealing with anxiety issues, isolation from peers, or fears. It is excellent for those who refuse to open up about their problems but need help.
If you have been wondering how to become a school counselor, you should check out the online master’s program offered by St. Bonaventure University. With their program, you will gain the skills you need to help students from any background overcome their challenges and excel in the classroom.
The demand for school counselors and mental health professionals
School counselors are needed throughout the country. Gaining your degree and professional credentials opens up a lot of job opportunities where you can make a difference in the world. School counselors have a higher average salary than a social worker with comparable experience and education. Over the next decade, there is an expected 10% increase in job growth for school counselors.
Counseling at elementary, middle, or high school levels
School counselors work with a specific range of ages, although some schools may split up their grades more than others. Grade school age may be kindergarten through fifth grade in some areas and sixth grade in others, while some private schools may have grades kindergarten through eighth grade.
While some duties and roles are consistent with all age groups, some differences occur as students work their way through school. For example, at the elementary level, a counselor sets a solid educational foundation for primary-grade students. This includes learning valuable social skills and how to handle emotions. Students are introduced to the idea that many career opportunities are open if they are willing to work hard.
At the middle school level, students begin dealing with the emotions and changes that come with adolescence and puberty while trying to excel academically. At this stage, many students are starting to seriously consider what career paths are most interesting to them. Relationships with others that go beyond platonic may start to occur.
High school counseling concentrates more on solidifying life goals and figuring out the next steps after high school. The right path will vary a lot by the student. The school counselor’s role is to help provide advice and guidance so they can make an educated choice that will help them get where they want to be in life. This may mean college, trade school, or an apprenticeship for some. Some students will want to work right out of high school for a while and attend college later.
School counselors must be as encouraging as possible to students, especially at the high school level. Counselors often help students with college applications, interviews, and even finding scholarships and financial aid for college.
Do you have what it takes to be a school counselor?
You embrace diversity
School counselors must be very willing to work with people from diverse backgrounds. Many schools are becoming more varied than ever, making it important for counselors to educate themselves on different religious and ethnic customs.
You connect well with others right away
Do you have a knack for getting people to open up to you? Are you great at finding common ground and using that to create a connection with another person? If you answered yes to these questions, you have valuable qualities that will help you be a fantastic school counselor.
Helping others is something you are passionate about
If you like to help others, making a career out of it can be very rewarding. Every day as a school counselor, you will assist students to make great choices and increase the likelihood that they will be happy and prosperous throughout their lives.
Working in schools with students from disadvantaged backgrounds can help offer them opportunities that are harder for them to get. Great guidance and support can go a long way toward evening the playing field for those struggling.
You are not easily intimidated and can keep a level head when facing hostility
Trying to do the right thing and help others is not always easy. School counselors will have to face angry and sometimes even hostile students and parents. School counselors must have a thick skin and the ability not to take hostility personally.
Unfortunately, anger and lashing out are ways that some people deal with emotional or academic issues. School counselors may be blamed for making issues worse or not doing their job the way a parent thinks they should.
Students can be particularly upset if they are sent to a school counselor for emotional and behavioral issues. They may see it as an unnecessary waste of time. School counselors must remain calm and make every possible effort to reach out and help any student in need, no matter how resistant they may be initially.
At the same time, counselors need to be aware of the appropriate measures when students are showing extreme behaviors that make them a hazard to themselves or others. This can be a tricky situation when some parents resist the idea that their child may need more help than what a free school counselor can offer.
Play therapy is a practical approach for children who may have trouble expressing themselves verbally. Figuring out what is causing a child’s emotional or behavioral issues can be difficult. Play therapy can help therapists get to the root of problems so children can overcome problems faster.
Play therapy can benefit the parent-child relationship by offering parents better insight into their child’s emotions and how they perceive the world around them. This knowledge can help improve parental responses in the home.
Using play therapy at schools can help students overcome aggressive behaviors and learn how to control their emotions when they feel stressed or isolated. Students who do not respond to other therapeutic measures may respond to play therapy.