Play Therapy

Play therapy is a unique psychotherapeutic practice with a general aim that might be gleaned from the term itself: providing therapy through play. However, this broad explanation might suggest that play therapy is merely a method used to lift the spirits and divert the encumbered minds of troubled children by encouraging them to do what they enjoy doing most. While play itself can yield therapeutic results, such an understanding of play therapy would hardly scratch the surface of the theories, uses, and complexities involved in the play therapy process.

What counseling and psychotherapy aim to do for adults, play therapy aims to do for children. Specifically, play therapy encourages the expression of a child’s feelings, experiences, and cognitive functioning. This knowledge is vital to the therapist in determining the direction of the therapy process, as well as measuring the success of the intervention throughout a series of play therapy sessions. This method of extracting and utilizing information through effective interpersonal communication is theoretically in tune with any therapeutic approach, but play therapy distinguishes itself by conducting its observations in a uniquely revealing environment.

Play is an essential component in a child’s emotional, psychosocial, cognitive, and behavioral development. Children also use play as a means of expressing themselves in ways that are not possible through direct communication. By using play as an outlet, a child is able to reveal (and a play therapist is able to observe) any confusion, frustration, or anxiety that might be inhibiting their development or otherwise preventing them from enjoying a happy, healthy childhood. It is for this reason that play has been referred to as the “language of childhood” and the role of a play therapy practitioner is to interpret this language and address important issues using a variety of play therapy approaches.


1) How do I know if my child will benefit from Play Therapy?
The decision to implement Play Therapy can only be made after a thorough Diagnistic Assessment interview, and is made in conjunction with the parents. Play Therapy may be initiated in conjunction with other treatment modalities such as parent training, special education services, and medication.

2) How long will my child be in play therapy?
Most children will stay in therapy from 12 to 52 weeks.

3) Can’t I just play with my child at home and get the same results?
It is extremely important that parents spend time in play with their children. Play Therapy is a specialized form of communication and intervention, and is practiced by trained mental health professionals.

4) Who practices Play Therapy?
Play Therapy may be practiced by any licensed mental health professional. They should have extensive training in child development, psychopathology, diagnosis, as well as play therapy.


Play therapy is only one modality available to the clinician. Some children will benefit from more direct counseling, behavior therapy, medication, special education services, educational modifications, or social skill training. All clients of Austin Behavioral Health Center go through an initial evaluation interview (called a Diagnostic Assessment) in order to determine what intervention strategies and treatment modalities should be employed.