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What Is Therapeutic Play?

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  • Written By: Laura M. Sands
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 10 July 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Therapeutic play is a term used to describe a type of communication a therapist or counselor employs to help a child cope with a difficult circumstance. Through toys, games and visual aids, therapists are able to offer children a sense of comfort and familiarity, which may help them communicate more effectively. The primary purpose of therapeutic play is to assist a child in coping with emotional or physical trauma.

Some therapists specialize in therapeutic play as a way to treat young clients. Other professionals, such as nurses and social workers, also use play therapy to assist in helping children feel relaxed enough to undergo certain medical procedures or to communicate their feelings about occurrences in their lives. Therapeutic play has been successfully used to treat adolescents since the early part of the 20th century.

Also referred to as therapeutic recreation, therapeutic play involves the use of age-appropriate toys. It also sometimes makes use of other forms of play, however, such as role-playing, art, music and storytelling. Using these types of therapeutic treatments, therapists are often able to acquire insight into a child’s unique perceptions about events and the world around them.

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Professionals often employ a therapeutic program utilizing play as a way to equip very young children with communication tools that they may not otherwise possess. For instance, a very young child may lack the ability to clearly explain abuse he or she has witnessed or experienced. Using therapeutic play, however, children are able to sometimes act scenarios out by using dolls or puppets.

By using therapeutic treatments, professionals are also able to help a child place confusing events in their proper perspective. One such example may be the use of characters in a puppet show illustrating how abuse is wrong, but is not the victim’s fault. In detailing fictitious events in a way that children can relate to and using familiar or appealing characters, therapists are sometimes successful in helping children shed many of the misplaced feelings of guilt or shame that abused children sometimes experience.

Nurses and other medical staff members also offer opportunities for therapeutic play to children who must undergo surgery or other painful medical treatments. Here, the goal of play is to help relieve stress, as well as to create a more comfortable environment for children who have to endure prolonged hospital stays. In such instances, therapeutic play also serves to keep children connected to childhood when having to face very sobering circumstances.

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