Children with mental health disorders or who have experienced abuse and neglect often struggle to communicate their feelings about these experiences. They haven’t yet developed ways to communicate their emotions with words, so they may exhibit feelings of anger or frustration through their behavior which can include fits or tantrums.
Play Therapy at Niles
Based on the premise that play is a child’s first form of communication, therapists use therapy with play to help families learn to communicate with youth in a way that’s more natural for them. Play therapy can help children learn healthy behaviors for overcoming emotional and social challenges. In a typical play therapy session, youth use tools like sand trays, miniatures, puppets, dollhouses and other toys to process issues that led to their need for treatment.
“This kind of therapy is a great tool for us at Niles, especially considering that nearly 100% of youth served at Niles face multiple traumas and adverse childhood experiences,” said Astra Garner, President of Niles. “We know that trauma affects healthy brain development, which makes engagement in traditional talk therapy sessions more difficult. In those moments, it’s good to have alternative treatment options at our disposal.”
Niles utilizes play therapy with youth in residential treatment and with students attending Niles Prep therapeutic school. Most sessions occur in a designated play therapy room but can also be done in an office setting.
Benefits of Play Therapy
Research conducted by the Association for Play Therapy reveals that therapy that involves play helps children:
- Become more responsible for behaviors and develop more successful strategies
- Develop new and creative solutions to problems
- Develop respect and acceptance of self and others
- Learn to experience and express emotion
- Cultivate empathy and respect for thoughts and feelings of others
- Learn new social skills and relational skills with family
This kind of therapy is much more than fun and games. It is structured and can be directive or non-directive based on the theoretical orientation of the clinician. Play therapy can also be used in an individual, group, couples or family setting. Additionally, play therapy can be used throughout an individual’s lifespan (not just for children). Due to the many benefits of play therapy, treatment programs at Niles encourage play therapy sessions with family members and caregivers as an important part of the healing process. Interaction during these sessions allows for time to work through obstacles together.
If you know a youth struggling to communicate, experiencing mental health issues or exhibiting challenging behavior, contact Niles at (816) 895-4299 or fill out this form for more information.