Healthy Tahoe: Pediatric play therapy |

Healthy Tahoe: Pediatric play therapy

Rebecca Phillipsen, LCSW
Rebecca Phillipsen

Pediatric play therapy is an important tool in a mental health therapists’ toolkit, especially when treating children. Depending on age and development, children may not be able to articulate their concerns to an adult and since the child can’t adequately express themselves in the adult world, in play therapy, a registered play therapist joins the child in their world.

Typically used with children between the ages of 3 and 12 who have social, emotional, or behavioral difficulties, a play therapist can use playtime to observe and gain insights into a child’s problems, while helping them explore emotions and learn new coping mechanisms. Play therapy doesn’t replace medications or other necessary treatments, instead it is typically used in conjunction with other therapy modalities.

Play therapy is considered helpful for children who are in distress, display behavioral issues, have experienced a dramatic upset, such as the death of a parent, or who have experienced physical or emotional abuse. It’s also often used when children are facing serious medical treatments or experiencing chronic illness.

Other instances in which play therapy may be helpful include:

  • family issues, like divorce or separation
  • natural disasters or traumatic events
  • eating and toileting disorders
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • autism spectrum disorder

During play therapy, therapists observe the choice of play objects, the types of play the child engages in, and the style of play. Through play therapy, children learn to express their thoughts and feelings in appropriate ways about the feelings of others, ways of controlling their behavior, and how to solve problems. As a play partner, a therapist can help children with social or emotional deficits learn to communicate and interact more skillfully.

Other benefits of play therapy include self-respect, alleviation of anxiety, and stronger social skills and family relationships, in addition to improvement of fine motor skills, such as grasping objects, and gross motor skills, such as crawling and walking.

Addressing and treating a child’s mental health is as important as caring for their physical health, and while children may lack the same verbal development as adults, play therapy offers therapists a way to observe, engage, and treat their pediatric patients.

Rebecca Phillipsen, is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in play therapy with Barton Psychiatry & Mental Health. To learn more about available mental health services, call 530-600-1968 or visit May is Mental Health Month — just as your health and physical well-being are important, your mind also matters. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

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