The key to play therapy is not the toys or therapeutic techniques. It is the relationship. Play therapy works because of the RELATIONSHIP that the therapist forms with the child. A relationship like no other; a therapist is not the parent, teacher, nor a coach. The play therapist’s job is to create a safe space. Not only a physically safe place, but rather a unique safe space within the therapist’s inner world where the child can come to understand his or her own way of being.
A play therapist cannot create this special space if he or she is caught up in focusing on a so-called problem to fix. (“When you focus on the problem, you lose sight of the child.” Landreth, 2012) This space can only be created if the therapist is focused on the CHILD. Given this unique opportunity to be just as they are will allow the child the safety and insight to find their own path towards healing.
In order for this to occur the play therapists should strive from towards the therapeutic conditions for growth outlined by Carl Rogers. These are …
- BEING REAL – a therapist needs to be genuine and have the self-awareness to do so
- WARM CARING AND ACCEPTANCE – to provide care and acceptance to others, one must first have self-acceptance. There is no room for evaluation or judgements within acceptance of self and others.
- SENSITIVE UNDERSTANDING – to understand the therapist must be fully present in the moment with the child.
“Children are naturally curious, delight in mastery and accomplishment, and energetically live life in their continual pursuit of discovery of their world and themselves in relation to the world.” (Landreth, 2012)
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Laura Hutchison (aka PlayDrMom) is a chubby kid turned competitive figure skater tween turned high school pom pon girl turned MSU Spartan turned grad student turned Mrs. HutcH turned Dr. turned Mom. She adores living in the Mitten, is addicted to Diet Coke, and firmly believes that ice cream is a main food group.