Play therapy is to children what talk therapy is to adults. Play is the child's way of communicating just as talking is the adult's natural way of communicating. In the playroom, toys are used like words and play is the child's language. Children are provided special toys in play therapy to enable them to say with the toys what they have difficulty saying with words...They can use the dolls, puppets, paints, or other toys to say what they think or how they feel.
-- Dr. Garry Landreth, Play Therapy: The Art of the Relationship
Play therapy has been clinically shown to address emotional and behavioral issues of children. It provides a way for trained clinicians to communicate with children. Children have not yet developed the abstract reasoning abilities and verbal skills needed to adequately articulate their feelings, thoughts and behaviors. For children, toys are their words and play is their conversation. Because children naturally express themselves, through play, play therapy is also more familiar and less threatening for children.
Play therapy uses play to comunicate, prevent or resolve psychsocial challenges. Through play, children work towards better social integration, growth and development.
Play therapy can also be used as a tool of diagnosis. A play therapist observes a client playing with toys (play-houses, pets, dolls, paints and clay, etc.) to determine the cause of the disturbed behavior. The objects and paterns of play, as well as the willingness to interact with the therapist, can be used to understand the underlying rationale for behavior both inside and outside the sesion.
Play therapy is generally used with children aged 3 through 11 and provides a way for them to express their emotions and feelings through a natural, self-guided, self-healing process. As a child's experiences and knowledge is often communicated through play, play therapy becomes an important vehicle for them to know and accept themselves and others.