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THE VALUE OF PLAY

Excerpt taken from (Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. By Stuart Brown M.D., 2009).

Humans are built to play and built through play. When we play, we are engaged in the purest expression of our individuality. Play activity is actually helping sculpt the brain. In play, most of the time we are able to try out things without threatening our physical or emotional well-being. We are safe precisely because we are just playing. Play’s process of capturing a pretend narrative (situation) and combining it with the reality of one’s experience in a playful setting is, at least in childhood, how we develop our major personal understanding of how the world works.

Play is an experience that allows children to express themselves freely while gaining knowledge about themselves and the world they live in. Weston and Weston state, “The instinctive method children use for solving problems and mastering conflicts is play. Play is the all-encompassing business of childhood-in it, children take charge of their world, sort out misconceptions, and re-create life experiences.” (Weston and Weston, 1993). Children use play to master and reduce the stress of real life fears, frustrations, and anxieties.

WHAT IS PLAY THERAPY

Play Therapy has increasingly become the choice of treatment for children dealing with emotional and behavioral disorders. The understanding of play as the natural mode of communication and self-expression for children has become the norm. (Schaefer, 2008). The natural medium of communication for adults is verbalization, but for children it is play (Sweeney, 1997). Play Therapists join children in their play in order to gain a better understanding of the child’s world. The ‘toys’ become the ‘words’ the child uses to express their feelings about their relationships and life experiences.  Furthermore, Play Therapy empowers children to work through and confront difficult experiences, as well as, learn more effective ways to communicate, broaden problem-solving skills and increase appropriate expression of emotions.

WHO BENEFITS FROM PLAY THERAPY

Research confirms that children use play to develop language, cognitive motor, and social skills (Sweeny, 1997). If play is the primary means by which children view and make sense of their world, then it follows that play should be beneficial in understanding and processing emotional pain and hindrances (Sweeney, 1997). Play therapy is typically used with children ages 3-12. Young children, adolescents and adults can also benefit from play therapy.  Play therapy is utilized to treat a multitude of behavioral problems including adjustment issues, anxiety, attachment problems, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), autism, depression, disruptive behavior problems, and self-esteem issues.  It is also used to help children process through difficult life circumstances such as death or loss, divorce, domestic violence, personal illness, traumatic experiences such as physical and sexual abuse, and natural disasters. Most importantly children themselves, as well has their families and significant others, benefit and grow through the healing powers of Play Therapy.

Brown, S. and Vaughan, C.  2009. Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. New York, NY: Avery.

Schaefer, C.E., Kelly-Zion, S., McCormick, J., and Ohnogi, A. 2008.  Play Therapy: For Very Young Children, viii. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Sweeney, D. S. 1997. Counseling Children through the World of Play, 17, 44. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Weston, D. C. and Weston, M.S. 1993. Playful Parenting: Turning the Dilemma of Discipline into Fun and Games, 8. New York, NY: G.P. Putman’s Sons.