If you are a Child Centered Play Therapist or do non directive Play Therapy, you know that knowing exactly what each play sequence and move means is not essential to a child’s growth and progress in play therapy.
Additionally, if we are so focused on dissecting and analyzing everything in the moment it’s highly likely that we aren’t going to be present enough and hold the unconditional space children need for healing.
AND yet, I still think that finding, assessing, and getting curious about the meaning behind the play holds so much value in play therapy.
I wanted to share with you the 3 reasons why I focus on making meaning out of play themes in my practice:
It helps us understand if there is movement and progress in play therapy.
Progressing on play themes is one of the markers in Play Therapy that a client is progressing, processing, integrating, and releasing the play content (and underlying emotions and behaviors) that led them to therapy. If we can understand what themes a child is playing out and processing, then it also can become clear to us when these things are changing. This may mean that children are going on to another theme or resolving difficulties through play. AND because of this, we can also understand when it might be time to start to wind down the play therapy process and get ready for termination.
It helps to make more meaningful facilitative statements.
In Child Centered Play Therapy your facilitative statements are essentially the “buffet of options” and all statements you make should help the play go on. But what we choose to say and when is driven by many complex factors. If we can truly identify play themes we can have a better chance at focusing on the core and most important part of the play rather than the peripherals.
It helps the child to feel truly seen and heard.
Part of the magic of Child Centered Play Therapy is that it is truly the child’s time to do almost anything that they might like. And during that time? You hold them with unconditional positive regard. Another one of Carl Rogers essential core conditions is accurate empathetic understanding. Now, when play therapists are able to truly understand the themes of play and reflect these themes back through facilitative statements with unconditional positive regard - a child can truly feel seen, heard, and understood!
There you have it! The top three reasons I am obsessed with assessing play themes! What about you? What leads you to know more about clients play themes? Comment below!
Looking for more resources and support around play therapy themes? Check out the training Dinosaurs In The Dollhouse: Interpreting Themes in Play Therapy and learn the 7 frameworks and tools to interpret play themes with TONS of case examples!
I'm Ann Meehan, an LPCC,