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Unlocking Healing Through Play: Helping Children Thrive with Play Therapy

All children need to play. It is an inherent instinct built into the way they learn and process emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Unlike most adults, children usually don’t understand how to express their emotions through common forms of communication. This can be even more difficult for children experiencing social, emotional, and behavioral issues, creating a communication barrier that can take a toll on both the children and their caregivers.


Fortunately, there is a way for even the youngest children to express their emotions in the form of play therapy. Play therapy is an evidence-based, nationally recognized therapeutic approach designed for children between the ages of 3-10. It is the most developmentally appropriate approach to therapy for children within this age range, as it allows them to communicate through their own language of play. Play therapy provides a constant safe space for the children and allows them to experience, experiment, and grow. They can work through problems to become more comfortable, confident, and engaged. The main goals of play therapy are to:
• Help children integrate socially, emotionally, and more successfully into new environments that may present challenges.
• Provide a safe space, free from biases or judgments, for the children to experience and explore.
• Work with the children to help them understand how to handle their emotions and learn to manage them in a productive way.

During play therapy sessions, children are guided to play, which, to them, is nothing more than just that: playing. However, the counselor can use what they learn from the child’s play language to evaluate and help them. The counselor uses the insights gained during their time together to create a plan for moving forward. In play therapy settings, the more toys you provide a child with, the more words you are allowing them to communicate with. Some of the long-term benefits of play therapy include healthy coping mechanisms, refined problem-solving skills, and enhanced academic progress. According to the Association for Play Therapy, over 100 play therapy outcome studies have found that the overall treatment effect ranges from moderate to high positive effects, which remain consistent across gender, age, and presenting issues.


The Counseling Center at JFS Rochester adopts a child-centered approach to play therapy, allowing the child to work at their own pace. Marcie Redding, Ed.S., RPT, LMHC, play therapist with The Counseling Center at JFS Rochester, shares her insights about this approach. “Play therapy is such a magical thing to experience. They develop self-acceptance, learn how to safely explore their emotions, and build meaningful relationships all through the medium of play. I get to be there for the journey, but they choose how we reach the destination, and they’re having fun while doing it.”


The benefits of play therapy also extend to the parents. As counselors collaborate with parents or guardians to chart a family-oriented strategy, parents experience potential benefits. Play therapy enables parents to comprehend and address their child’s specific needs, instilling greater confidence in their parenting skills.


“At the Counseling Center at JFS Rochester, our playroom is filled with a wide variety of toys that represent different play themes such as nurturing, addressing anger, and venturing into fantasy, allowing the children to convey how they are feeling,” says Redding. “I can then partner with parents to provide them with tools and language to continue supporting their child at home.”


For more detailed insights into play therapy with the Counseling Center at JFS Rochester or to schedule an appointment, contact counseling@jfsrochester.org or call (585) 506-3064.

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