MMN 021: Play Therapy Is No Child’s Play – with Jennifer Taylor

On this episode of the Make a Mental Note podcast, Jennifer Taylor, a licensed clinical social worker and registered play therapist, discusses how play therapy can help children resolve emotional and behavioral problems. Give it a listen and find out why this episode is worthy of a mental note!

Jennifer Taylor interview (click on Jennifer’s name to listen to interview)

Mental Notes:

* Play therapy works well for children between the ages of 3 – 11.

* There’s more to play therapy than playing games with children. There is a theory and method as to the selection of toys as well as the play therapy process.

* Exposure to trauma – indirectly or directly – is a common theme among many children who participate in play therapy. Other kids who are oppositional, defiant & disruptive at school or home are also seen, but may present as anxious and insecure in play therapy sessions.

* Sometimes play therapists use a direct approach in their work with children (e.g., choosing a game to play with a child for a specific reason) while in other cases they use a non-directive approach (i.e., office is set up with a variety of toys and child is given the freedom to choose what they want to play with). In the latter case, the therapist follows the child’s lead and tracks and reflects on (verbally) what they are doing, how they’re feeling, what they’re saying so as to develop a relationship and help them deal with the issues that brought them in for therapy.

* The “I wonder” phrase is used to confirm or disconfirm hypotheses/guesses that the therapist has developed regarding the child (e.g., “I wonder if you’re feeling sad right now” or “I wonder what’s going on with [whatever it is that the child is playing with]”) although the child may not answer or answer in a way that helps clarify things.

* The relationship is the key to change for the child.

* Kids can test out new roles in the play therapy room or talk about things that they didn’t feel comfortable talking about in the past because of the accepting and non-judgmental attitude of the therapist.

* Goals – and progress toward goals – are usually discussed with parents, but aren’t usually addressed with children in a formal way in play therapy sessions.

* Kids progress from simply exploring their surroundings and items in the play therapy room when they first participate in play therapy to playing with various items and exhibiting themes in their play and stories that help them work through their issues. As they show improvements emotionally and/or behaviorally they may not engage with the same toys and/or in the same way they had in the past and display boredom (e.g., “I’m not sure what I want to do today”). This is a signal that they may be entering the termination phase of counseling.

* Boys can be more aggressive, loud and messy in their play while girls may seek approval or directions from the therapist, appear anxious about making choices, etc.

* Some kids need limits and boundaries in their play.

* Parents play an important role in play therapy. They are the experts about their child’s history and are usually asked to implement plans/recommendations to help the child with their emotional and/or behavioral issues. Educating parents about the play therapy process is important so they know what to expect with regard to progress.

* Therapists need to “trust the process” in terms of helping a child via play therapy. Not trying to hurry the process along due to pressure about needing to be accountable and making changes quickly to please the parents is key.

* Non-directive play therapy takes between 16 – 20 sessions.

* Striving toward consistency in routines and schedules as well as spending quality time with kids (i.e., at least 30 minutes a week of unstructured play time) are things that parents can do to help their kids feel safe and secure.

Mental Notes Takeaway:

* Play therapy is a way of helping children resolve emotional and behavioral problems by engaging with them in ways that are familiar and enjoyable – through play. This isn’t to say that play therapy is all fun-and-games – there are intense emotions that are discussed – not necessarily in direct ways, but in ways that are understandable to kids. The key is for the therapist to trust the process and not feel like they have to control what happens to bring about some therapeutic outcome.

Check It Out:

* Jennifer Taylor Play Therapy Services, LLC –

* Jennifer’s phone number – 901-579-0242

209 Castlewood Drive Suite D
Murfreesboro, TN. 37129
(615) 403-5227

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