What is Play Therapy?

Play therapy differs from regular play in that the therapist helps children to address and resolve their own problems. Play therapy builds on the natural way that children learn about themselves and their relationships in the world around them (Axline, 1947; Carmichael, 2006; Landreth, 2002). Through play therapy, children learn to communicate with others, express feelings, modify behavior, develop problem-solving skills, and learn a variety of ways of relating to others. 

As a play therapist, I utilize a more specific type of play therapy approach, Experiential Play Therapy, which was developed by Dr. Byron and Carol Norton, who currently practice and resides in Greeley, Colorado. They believe children encounter their world at an experiential (experiences, in the moment) rather than cognitive (thoughts and thinking) level. Play for a child is as water for a fish, the jungle for a monkey, and so on. 

There are many child therapist who use Child-Centered Play Therapy (CCPT), which was developed by Dr. Gary Landreth, at University of North Texas, which is very different from Experiential Play therapy (EPT). Compared to CCPT, in EPT, we take the child much deeper into the their emotional world and the unconscious to make more meaningful changes and provide a unique experience. 

How Does Experiential Play Therapy Work?

Experiential Play Therapy® is a model of play therapy with a strong belief in the child’s quest for health. Only the child knows their particular perceptions of their life’s dilemmas. Therefore, in Experiential Play Therapy, the child is allowed to be the director of the play. In that process, they will utilize toys and their own creativity to recreate their experience in an environment that enables them to approach their struggles so that they are able to regain the power that has been lost in the actual event or environment. The therapist becomes a partner in the child’s quest, assuming whatever role the child requests. This play is active, as the child and therapist use body movements to expel the stress of the experience and empower the child to move forward.

As Dr. Byron and Carol Norton noted in their book "Reaching Children Through Play Therapy", Play becomes a rehearsal for adult life for the child who have had basic physical needs met on a consistent basis, has experienced emotional nourishment and cognitive enrichment in life, and has had opportunities for and permission to play (Lewis, 1993)

I have utilized Experiential Play Therapy with many young children in my practice who have experienced physical, mental, or sexual abuse, or divorce or death, and many other kind of traumas with positive outcomes based on number of factors. There are a large body of research on the impact of trauma on the body and brain, and if untreated how it can impact a persons well being in all aspects of life. Especially, children who have experienced trauma, many children lose opportunities to gain the positive experiences of play that benefits their current development rather they spend their time and emotional energy into trying to protect themselves as well as trying to resolve the trauma they experienced. 

As a Experiential Play Therapist I believe....

I have very extensive training in Experiential Play Therapy with the developers, Dr. Byron and Carol Norton. Over the years of attending the Norton's intensive training out in Colorado, I have worked with many children utilizing Experiential Play Therapy and the stories that are expressed in session. Here are a few common Principles embraced by Experiential Play Therapist (there are over 120 listed by Dr. Byron Norton):

-The child has an innate capacity to move toward healing
-Children speak through their metaphors of play and behavior.
-All children want to have a sense of power in their play therapy
-Children want someone to hear them, not just tell them to change their behavior.
-"The healing of a child occurs in the context of a relationship." (Moustakas, 1992)
-Children have a personal wisdom about their lives that most adults never comprehend
-Children are existential beings who deal with anxiety, abandonment, death, shame, belongingness, etc.., as part of the meaning and struggles in their lives
-A difficult birthing process is a child's first or primary trauma event.
-To most people, children's play in only play; to the child it's the meaning of their life. 
- A child who is afraid to play is afraid to exist.