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Family therapy is generally a psychological talking treatment, while play therapy uses play itself as a form of communication. As children are more comfortable with expressing themselves through play and may have difficulty sitting through a talking therapy session, family play therapy can be a way of bringing the adults and children of a family into sessions together. In family play therapy, both adults and children participate in playful and creative activities. One of the benefits of play therapy is that it allows the expression of feelings and thoughts which family members may be unable to express in words. Family play therapy uses numerous activities such as games, puppets, sand play and creative art work.
There are a number of different types of family therapy, but all family therapy programs look at problems in terms of the family as a whole. This is easier for the family therapist to do if the children are present as well as the adults. It is also thought that families change more effectively if children take part in family therapy. Using family play therapy means that sessions are less intellectual and more imaginative, making them more appropriate for children. Children may also bring their own ideas to therapy, which would not be heard otherwise.
Two main types of play therapy exist and these are known as directive and non-directive, although there is some debate about whether it is possible to be truly non-directive. Non-directive therapists allow clients to guide the session, even though the therapists may direct any analysis and interpretation afterward. A directive therapist typically directs the methods used during a therapy session, but may take a non-directive approach when the results of therapy are being interpreted. With either approach, it is important that boundaries are set for family play therapy, in the form of limits for clients' behavior. For example, clients must not attack the therapist, destroy or remove any of the equipment and materials used in therapy, or stay longer than the end of the session.
Some parents may view family play therapy as embarrassing or silly, and therapists may find it helps to discuss the techniques with them before therapy begins. Using simple methods which are easy to carry out and getting family members to work together in groups can help to overcome embarrassment. When parents understand that play techniques help children express themselves, they may feel more comfortable with family play therapy.