Healing Through Play

May 1, 2018

by Arletha Kirby, Ph.D.


Play is fun and exhilarating.  There is something liberating about play for children and adults alike.

Early philosopher Plato wrote that “It is the essential nature of man to play.”

Play is a way for children to explore and learn about the world. It is understood that the language skills of a very young child are often beyond what they can verbally express. It is a natural thing for children to pick up toys, and toys become their words.

Play can be very therapeutic because it facilitates therapist’s ability to join with the very young child through the use of toys and expressive activities to better understand, identify and try to resolve a wide range of social- emotional, behavioral, and other developmental issues. 

Children use play as their earliest form of communication. They can give information about what they may be experiencing. It also helps children to work through processing emotions and feelings.

For children who have emotional and behavioral problems, integrating play in their treatment is an important element of their therapy. The use of toys, stories, songs, games, and movement activities grab the childrens’ attention and teach basic lessons like how to follow directions.

For example, in play therapy puppets can be used to act out some of the troubles that children may be experiencing. By speaking to a puppet, the children are able to problem solve for the puppet and in the process learn something about themselves.  

While sessions of play therapy happen in a controlled space like a classroom or playroom, when possible it is beneficial to test the work being done in a real life setting such as a playground, where children have the opportunity to practice what they have learned in therapy with the support of an adult whom they trust. 

Playgrounds can serve a multitude of functions that include exploration, honing motor skills, imaginative play, hand eye coordination, and a large array of social skills. A playground is critical in learning waiting turns, using kind words, good manners, saying sorry, and playing with others. It’s celebrating their successes while helping them to experience failures as teachable moments.

Whether in a controlled space with a therapist and a puppet, or on the playground, play can be an invaluable tool to learning about who we are and who we can become.  


The Concept of Play Therapy

Activities such as drawing, drumming, creative movement, and play permit individuals of all ages to express their thoughts and feelings in a manner that is different than strictly verbal means and have unique properties as interventions.

An excerpt fromCultural Issues in Play Therapy
Edited by Eliana Gil and Athena A. Drewes 
Copyright © 2005 Guilford Publications


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