Play Therapy: Unpacking The Science of Fun
What is Play Therapy and How Does it Work?
The Modality Manual / Play Therapy
First up, “play” for children isn’t just for fun – it’s an emotional necessity.
Play helps children to be creative, adaptive, better at problem-solving and connecting with others. It allows their imagination to run wild, try new experiences, make discoveries, and express themselves.
Sometimes, kids find it hard putting their feelings into words, but they can use play to communicate what’s going on inside, benefiting their mental health.
Play therapists provide a safe space where the child is free to play with toys, games, and art materials. The therapist observes the child’s play and interacts with them in a non-directive way, allowing the child to take the lead whilst exploring their feelings and process experiences.
Play therapy works by helping the child feel safe and supported. By giving the child a place to play freely and without judgment, therapists work with children to develop a deeper understanding of their feelings and create new ways of coping.
Benefits of Play Therapy for Children and Adolescents
Not sure if Play therapy is for your child? Check out the benefits of Play:
- Emotional expression: Play therapy is a helps children express their emotions in a non-verbal way, so it’s beneficial for those who have difficulty expressing themselves with words.
- Problem-solving skills: by engaging in play, children can develop problem-solving skills and learn new ways to cope with challenges.
- Improved communication: Play therapy can help children improve their communication skills (both verbal and non-verbal).
- Increased self-esteem: Children can develop a sense of mastery and accomplishment (rad for boosting their self-esteem).
- Reduction in anxiety and depression: research shows that play therapy is effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression in children.
- Healing from trauma: Play therapy provides a safe space for children to process their experiences and emotions.
Types of Play Therapy Techniques and Activities
So…what does Play therapy actually involve?
Here are some common ways that play therapy is used:
- Sand play: in this form of therapy, children use a sandbox and a variety of miniature figures to create a mini representation of their world. The therapist observes the child’s play and helps them explore their social dynamics, experiences, and feelings.
- Art therapy: art materials (think paints, markers, and clay) can be used to help children express themselves creatively and process their emotions. The therapist may ask the child to create a drawing or sculpture to represent a feeling or experience.
- Puppets: puppets can be used to help children act out different scenarios and explore emotions. The therapist may use puppets to help the child practice social skills or work through difficult situations.
- Imaginary play: here, the child creates a story or scenario and acts it out. The benefits of imaginative play to help the child work through fears and practice skills learned in the real world.
- Therapeutic games: Games can be modified to have a therapeutic focus, helping children learn new skills or work through challenges. E.g., Playing connect-four might be used to help the child practice problem-solving skills, social skills or manage their emotions if they lose the game.
Ps. the therapist will choose the techniques and materials that are most appropriate for the child’s needs and interests.
When to Consider Play Therapy for Your Child
Wondering if Play therapy is right for your child? If any of these scenarios sound familiar it might be time to hit up your local play therapist:
- Is your child struggling at school, getting into fights or acting out? Play therapy can help them learn new coping skills and express themselves safely
- Has your child recently experienced a trauma, e.g., a serious illness or the death of a family member? Play therapy can help them process their emotions and work through their grief in a way that’s appropriate for their age.
- Is your child struggling to make friends? Play therapy can help them practice socialising the develop new skills to navigate social situations.
- Is your child having trouble with self-esteem and confidence? Play therapy can provide a space for them to explore their strengths, practice problem-solving and feel more empowered.
Play Therapy: The Role of the Therapist
In play therapy, the therapeutic relationship is crucial. The therapist builds a trusting relationship with the child, creating a safe environment where the child feels comfortable being themselves.
The therapist observes the child’s play and uses their interactions to understand the child’s emotional needs. E.g., the therapist may ask open-ended questions to encourage the child to talk about their experiences and feelings, or provide reflective statements to help the child feel validated.
The therapist may also use their observations to tailor activities to meet the child’s specific needs, like role playing activities to help with social skills.
Play Therapy vs. Traditional Talk Therapy: Which is Best for Your Child?
Talk therapy is – just that – talking with a therapist about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. It can be effective for some children, especially those who are able to articulate their feelings and experiences verbally.
But, for many children, expressing themselves through play or art can be less intimidating than talking about their emotions directly. This is where play therapy comes into – Play.
For example, a child who has experienced trauma may have difficulty talking about their experiences directly but can express themselves though art or play. Or if your child struggles sitting still or focusing for long periods of time, play therapy allows children to move around and engage in activities while still working through their challenges.
Ultimately, the therapist can help you decide which approach is best for your child based on their needs and developmental stage.
Finding the Right Play Therapist for Your Child
Okay, you’ve decided your child will benefit from play therapy, so what now?
Finding the right therapist for your child can feel a lot. Here’re some steps to make the process easier:
- Research: You can search for qualified play therapists online or ask for recommendations from your child’s paediatrician or school wellbeing team.
- Schedule a consultation: Many play therapists offer free consultations to help you get to know them and their approach to therapy. This can be a good opportunity to ask questions and see if the therapist is a good fit for your child.
- Consider the therapeutic approach: Different play therapists may use different techniques and activities in their sessions. Consider what approach might work best for your child and their specific needs.
- Trust your gut: you know your child best. The most important factor in finding the right therapist for your child is trust. You should feel comfortable with the therapist and confident in their ability to provide effective and compassionate care for your child.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who is The Indigo Project?
We are a progressive online counselling practice, providing telehealth services in Australia. Our passionate and experienced local team includes psychologists, psychotherapists & counsellors, coaches and therapists that are trained to deliver online therapy to you in a safe and convenient way.
Whether you are looking for short or long term support through a challenging time, or looking to discover your potential, we want you to feel comfortable on every step of the journey.
Read more about Our Story
Telehealth: About Therapy and Online Counselling
What can I expect from therapy? What is therapy like?
Every therapist is different and their therapeutic style and personalities are all unique. However, all of our Indigo practitioners will hold a compassionate and non-judgmental space for you, where you are free to be who you are. Your therapist is there to listen to you, guide you, and help you overcome life’s challenges.
Generally, you’ll spend the first session getting to know each other, talking about your history and what it is you’d like to work through. From your second session onwards, you’ll get to go deeper, peeling back the layers and all the while learning practical strategies to help you transform and grow.
At Indigo we encourage our clients to have at least 10-20 sessions, because we believe that therapy is a long-term journey of commitment, growth and investment in yourself. After seeing your therapist for a while, you may continue to book occasional check-in sessions as you feel more confident doing life with the knowledge and tools you have gained.
Who is online therapy for?
Everyone is welcome to attend online counselling or therapy with one of our practitioners at The Indigo Project.
Online counselling or therapy via Zoom is an accessible, safe and convenient option for those who are unable to attend face-to-face appointments, or simply prefer to meet online. Whether it be a busy schedule due to work and family, health-related reasons or distance, online counselling can help you.
What issues are suited for online therapy?
Our team of trained clinical psychologists, psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors attend to a range of common mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, stress, grief and loss, life transitions, relationship issues and more.
A number of practitioners also specialise in areas such as sexuality, gender and identity, addiction, sports and performance, personality disorders and therapy for children and adolescents.
Several therapists also provide services in marriage counselling and couples therapy.
Finding the best psychologist or counsellor for me - where do I start?
We highly encourage you to view our practitioners and use the filtering options to find a psychologist or counsellor who can help you with the issues you are seeking help for.
Meet our therapists and what they can help you with here.
If you need help, our Therapy Matchmakers team will be able to match you with a practitioner. Give us a call on (02) 9212 5469 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can support you on your journey.
What if I can’t see the therapist I had in mind?
Our therapists typically have capacity to see several new clients each month. However these openings can get filled up fast from those who have been on a waitlist. If there is someone that you particularly want to see but is currently unavailable, we can place you on a waitlist until there is an opening.
If you prefer to attend an online counselling session sooner, our Therapy Matchmakers can help you find an alternative practitioner based on your needs and what you are looking to achieve in therapy.
Meeting a therapist for the first time can feel like a first date. If you don’t connect with your therapist on your first or second session, we’ll pair you with a new practitioner and your next session will be on the house* as part of our Perfect Match Promise.
*Terms and conditions apply.
Can I make an appointment for my child or dependent?
If you are the parent or legal guardian of a minor, you will need to make an appointment online or via the phone.
We have many psychologists, psychotherapists & counsellors who have experience dealing with children and adolescents in therapy. See who can help here.
Someone I know needs counselling. Can I book an appointment for them?
Those who require online counselling or therapy will have to make an appointment directly with The Indigo Project via our online booking form or on the phone. We do not accept bookings on behalf of an individual or couple from a third party unless as part of an insurance plan, support scheme or similar arrangement.
We want marriage or couples counselling. Can we see a couples counsellor together?
Couples are welcome to attend online therapy sessions together with one of our couples therapists.
Do I need to do anything before my first session?
We recommend setting up for your online therapy session 5-10 minutes before it commences. Make sure your computer or phone microphone and video is working, and that you are comfortable and ready to sit through your session uninterrupted.
There’s zero pressure to prepare anything for your first session but if you find it helpful, you can jot down some points about specific things you’d like to work on or discuss with your therapist.
Are my therapy sessions confidential?
Everything you discuss with your therapist here at Indigo is absolutely confidential, and will not be shared unless you or someone else is at risk of serious harm.
How do I pay for my online therapy session?
For first time clients, payment is made via debit or credit card at the time of booking. For returning clients, there are a number of payment methods available such as authorised direct debit or online via the payments link on your invoice.
Who to contact if you are in crisis
The Indigo Project is not a crisis service.
- If you are in a crisis, if you are experiencing suicidal or homicidal thoughts, or somebody else is in danger, DO NOT use this service.
- Call 000 or use these contacts for immediate crisis support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week:
Lifeline 13 11 14 - A crisis support and suicide prevention service for all Australians.
Mental Health Line 1800 011 511 - The Mental Health Line offers professional help and advice for everyone. Operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 - Beyond Blue provide support to address issues related to depression, suicide, anxiety disorders and other related mental illnesses.
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 - A free service for people who are suicidal, caring for someone who is suicidal, bereaved by suicide or are health professionals supporting people affected by suicide.
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 - A counselling service specifically for young people aged between 5 and 25.
Parentline 1300 1300 52 - Parent Line is a free telephone counselling and support service for parents and carers with children aged 0 to 18 who live in NSW.
What else does The Indigo Project do?
Our courses, workshops and events are designed to transform the way you think, feel and live.
Not ready to commit to therapy? Indigo founder Mary Hoang has created Get Your Sh*t Together, a self-directed digital course for those who want to develop greater self-awareness, tackle stress and anxiety, and learn practical skills to help heal, grow and thrive in life.
Mary has also written a book Darkness is Golden: A Guide to Personal Transformation and Dealing with Life's Messiness that combines her experience in the therapy room with unique audio experiences framed by her research in music psychology.
Although an online counselling practice, The Indigo Project believes in the power of community, and we often host events throughout the year. Keep an eye out for events such as Listen Up, a contemporary digital sound bath some describe as a “soundtracked therapy session”.
We are also available for corporate events, workshops and related projects. Please contact us at email@example.com if you’d like to know more.