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5 min read

What does a play therapist do? Plus, Tips for Finding the Right One

Psychology becomes relevant in our lives from Day One.

While many think of therapy as something you go to after some kind of event or trauma - divorce, the death of a loved one, etc. - there is actually nothing in the definition, nor in industry standards, that says this has to be the case.

Of course, therapy can be extremely beneficial for post-traumatic experiences, but it can also be used to ensure peace of mind and self-growth on an ongoing basis. It can also be used, in the context of child therapy, to help a child develop the skills and emotional regulation they need to excel.

One such form of child therapy is centered not on speech - since children often either have not yet learned to speak or do not possess the language skills for talk therapy to work properly - but rather on play.

Play therapists work with children on their mental health and development, using arts and crafts, roleplaying activities, and special toys to guide progress.

Play therapists may also instruct parents on play techniques to try with their own children, to continue making progress at home.

Let's dive into what parents can expect when enrolling their child in play therapy, as well as how they can ensure their child is paired with the right therapist for them.

Play Therapist Resources on This Page:

Types of Play Therapy

Is my child too old for play therapy?

How To Find The Right Play Therapist for Your Child

Play Therapy in Brooklyn: Williamsburg Therapy Group

Types of Play Therapy

The type of play therapy recommended for your child will vary depending on their age, communication ability and style, and presenting issue.

Here are some of the most common.

Puppet/Doll Roleplaying

Children often lack the complicated language skills needed to outline their feelings about things going on at home.

Asking a child how they feel about, for example, their brother's absence since he joined the military won't exactly yield an in-depth conversation about how they not only miss their rolemodel, but one of their best friends as well.

Instead, a therapist might ask a child to demonstrate with dolls how their day used to go after school - coming home, eating dinner, playing with their brother, and then going to bed - and then compare it to what they do now: come home, eat dinner, play a game on their own, and then go to bed.

The therapist can use this demonstration to infer in more depth how the brother's absence is affecting the child's still-developing mind.

Toy Phones

Children love to mimic adults. Searching for meaning and mapping everything around them, adults are their so-called "sources of truth": where they turn to know what's what.

And because kids see adults using the phone all the time, a toy phone is a great way to get a child engaged in an activity that can actually illuminate their psychology better than a lot of other methods.

A therapist might give a child a toy phone and tell them to act as if they are talking to, for example, the teacher in a class they are struggling in.

The child might talk about how much they hate the activities they do in class; that their stomach hurts when they have to stand in front of the class for show-and-tell. The therapist may then investigate the possibility that the child is suffering from some form of social anxiety.

Is my child too old for play therapy?

Actually, there is no such thing as "too old" for play therapy. Adults with certain intellectual disabilities, for example, often benefit from play therapy in many of the same ways as children do. Even adults without intellectual disabilities can find peace of mind and healing progress in play therapy like kinetic sand tray therapy and art therapy.

A child therapist, by definition, works with children under the age of 18 - minors. Play therapy is used most often for children ages 3 to 12.

If you are unsure whether or not your child will benefit from play therapy, the best thing to do is get in touch with a mental health professional. They will be able to determine whether exploring play therapy is an option for your child or whether another form of therapy may be more appropriate.

How To Find The Right Play Therapist for Your Child

The first step in finding the right play therapist for your child is to consult those who are closest to him or her. Of course, you are likely the closest person to your child, along with any other parents in the mix, but there are other adults who spend considerable time with your child: family, friends, teachers, guidance counselors, etc.

Asking those who work in childcare, teaching, and child therapy can yield some great references for play therapists. You can also do an online search for child-centered play therapy in your area - though this will likely bring up thousands of results, some good and others not so good.

How do you filter out the ones that aren't the right fit? Just use the Expertise-Convenience-Price method.

The Expertise-Convenience-Price Method

The Expertise-Convenience-Price method is a great way to ensure you are finding the right therapist for your child. It's a simple, intuitive way to filter out the noise and land on a great professional who you are more likely to continue seeing (or, in this case, who you are more likely to keep bringing your child to see).

Definition Template (19)

The Prerequisite: Expertise

The first aspect of a therapist that you need to filter by is expertise. This is a prerequisite to ensuring that your final choice is A.) relevant to your needs; and B.) properly experienced and licensed.

Start with a pool of play therapists (usually, child therapists in general will have some capacity for play therapy). Rank them by number of years of experience, specifically in play therapy, where possible.

Take the top 20% of your list. These should be play therapists for whom there is a reasonable level of certainty that they are at least licensed and competent.

The Retention Factor: Convenience

Take that list and rank them again, this time in terms of convenience. How far is their office from your home? Do they accept reschedules? Does their office seem reachable?

The more convenient a therapist is for their clients, the more likely it is that they will continue sessions. Since progress in therapy is largely dependent on, well, actually going to therapy, it's important to be honest with yourself about your threshold of action.

If a therapist lives an hour and a half away and never seems to answer the phone, it doesn't really matter how much experience they have: The likelihood that you will be able to make the 4-hour commitment per week to get a session done (driving there, waiting during the 1-hour session, and driving home) is slim.

And if they don't answer your calls, it's harder to reschedule during a busy week or get up-to-date on your child's progress.

After you have ranked the therapists by convenience, discard the bottom 80% of the list. The remaining list should only contain a few therapists - those who are great at their job and convenient for your busy life.

The Easy Filter: Price

Theoretically, by this point, you should have a list of 3 to 5 therapists who will do just fine. You should then rank them by price and select the cheapest one, or one that accepts insurance (or that helps with out-of-network reimbursement, a far more common thing in therapy).

Note, of course, that much of the power of therapy comes from the rapport and trust between client and therapist. Don't let the price filter dissuade you from choosing a therapist that feels right for your child.

If one therapist on the list seems particularly well-suited, it's often worth it in the long run to go with them, even if they're a bit pricier.

Play Therapy in Brooklyn: Williamsburg Therapy Group

For the best child therapy in Brooklyn, look no further than Williamsburg Therapy Group. Our team of dedicated, doctoral-level child psychologists is experienced, highly available, and trained in the most up-to-date play therapy techniques in the field.

We have over 35 therapists on-staff ready to work with you or your child on any mental health concerns that may arise. Give us a call, and our patient coordinator will ask you a number of questions to quickly and easily match you with the right therapist for your child.

Book a Therapy Session in Brooklyn Today

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