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Play Therapy


"The challenge of therapy is to serve, to wait with interest and concern for the child to activate the will and to choose to act, to dare to pursue what is present in the way of interest and desire. This calls for unusual patience and an unshakable belief in the child's capacity to find the way, to come to terms with the restraints and tensions of living, a belief in the child's powers to listen inwardly and to make choices that are self-enhancing."


- Gary Landreth

Why use play as a method of therapy?

How a child feels about himself is what makes a significant difference in his behaviour. A child's play is his natural medium of communication. Through play the child learns about himself, his environment and his experiences. During play the child feels in control and secure. It is the way he makes sense of his reality.

Play therapy gives the therapist, Karin Bronkhorst, the chance to enter the child's world and helps the child to communicate his reality. The toys he plays with become his words and the play becomes his language. Play allows him a safe psychological distance from his problems and allows him to express his true thoughts and feelings in his symbolic language. In doing this the child works out balance and control in his life and experiences a greater sense of control in general.

The child's play during therapy reveals:

  • What the child has experienced
  • His reactions to his experiences
  • Feelings about his experiences
  • What the child's wishes, wants or needs are
  • The child's perception of self

What happens during play therapy?

Children are brought into Play Therapy to address and resolve their problems. Play Therapy allows trained play therapists to assess and understand children's play and to use it in assisting the child in coping with difficult emotions and in finding solutions to their problems. By safely confronting their problems in the protected Play Therapy environment, children find creative solutions. The play therapist creates a contained space for the child to, through playing with what is available in the playroom, experience himself as masterful and accomplished and lives his life in his continual pursuit of discovery of his world and himself in relation to his world. In other words he makes sense of who he is, and who he is in his environment.

Children are resilient and are capable of directing their own growth. The play therapist believes in the child's inner self-directing healing power.

Objectives of play therapy include;

  • Developing a more positive self-concept
  • Assume greater self-responsibility
  • Become more self-directing
  • Become more self-reliant
  • Become more self-accepting
  • Engage in self-determined decision making
  • Experience a feeling of control
  • Become sensitive to the process of coping
  • Develop an internal source of evaluation
  • Become more trusting of self
  • Build better social skills

How is play therapy beneficial to a child?

Children benefit from Play Therapy in many ways. Research supports the effectiveness of Play Therapy with children experiencing a wide variety of social, emotional, behavioral, and learning problems, including: post-traumatic stress, conduct disorder, aggression, anxiety/fearfulness, depression, ADHD, impulsivity, low self-esteem, reading difficulties, and social withdrawal.

Play Therapy has been used successfully with children whose problems are related to life stresses such as divorce, death, relocation, hospitalization, chronic illness, physical/sexual abuse, domestic violence and natural disasters.

How long is a therapy process?

Research suggests that it takes an average of twenty Play Therapy visits to resolve the problems of the typical child coming to treatment. Of course, some children may improve much faster while more serious or ongoing problems may take longer to resolve. The therapist would typically see the child for one session weekly, with parental guidance session intermittently planned.

Does the family have any role in play therapy?

Families play a crucial, supportive role in child's healing processes. The interaction between children and their families can sometimes be complex and frustrating to the parents as well as the child. Sometimes the child's behavior signals difficulty processing family dynamics and his inability to actively change this. Other times the entire family becomes distressed because the child's problems are so disruptive. The play therapy process provides the opportunity for the child and his family to address issues related to their family dynamics and to heal the family unit. When the child and his family heal or shift, the whole system heals, and this also affects other members of the society, directly or indirectly related to the family.

The play therapist will make some decisions about how and when to involve some or all members of the family in the Play Therapy. At a minimum, the therapist will want to communicate regularly with the child's parents or guardians to put supportive changes in place to assist the child's healing. It is important for the parents or guardians to understand the child's process as this helps them to also enter their child's world.