Play Therapy for Children: The Neuroscience Behind Its Value

In a perfect world, children wouldn’t be exposed to some of the hardships and difficult situations life tends to throw at them. Sadly, though, these things do happen.

Moreover, even when parents seek therapy to help their children with these hardships, that doesn't guarantee that it will help. Unfortunately, children don’t always respond to traditional therapies that are meant for adults.

That’s why child therapy is so important. It provides a safe space for a child to open up and show vulnerability. And it allows them to explain their thoughts and feelings about some of the things they struggle with so a therapist can get to the bottom of what’s going on. 

Play therapy is often used to help children who are dealing with a sudden loss, such as a separation, divorce, or death in the family.

This type of therapy is much more than just letting a child play with toys, though. It can get to the true core of how a child is feeling and help them learn how to cope in a healthy way—all through something they do naturally... play. 

What Is Play Therapy?

Play therapy is about as straightforward as it sounds. A child is brought into a room with a therapist and is encouraged to play and interact with age-appropriate toys. At first, the therapist may remain somewhat distant, allowing the child to play with whatever they’d like. 

Over several sessions, though, the therapist will start to ask more questions. They'll interact more. They may ask the child why they’re playing with certain things. Or they might ask them to draw or color a picture and explain it. 

The goal of this type of therapy is to get the child to open up through the action of playing. It’s something kids are very good at. And it doesn't make them feel so scared or overwhelmed, which they might be if they were in a traditional therapy setting. In time, they establish a bond with the therapist and feel more comfortable talking to them. 

Understanding the Subconscious

Play therapy is valuable for reaching and effecting changes in a child's subconscious. What’s the neuroscience behind the process?

Not only does play therapy enhance “neuroplasticity” (which simply refers to the way the brain can change), it has the potential to create brand new neural pathways as well. 

When new pathways are created and the brain’s neuroplasticity is increased, it’s more likely that the child's overall awareness grows as well. This allows them to have a better understanding of their surroundings and what may have happened/what is happening in their lives. When those expansions occur, the therapist can work to transform the way the child thinks in a more positive and healthy direction.

And it all begins with the relationship between the child and the therapist. This connection can make a lasting difference in just how effective the therapy will be. In other words, the more comfortable the child becomes with a therapist, the more they’ll be willing to let them in.

In time, the therapist can utilize that trusting relationship to help the child understand what’s going on in their subconscious. This includes helping them to process what they’re feeling and learn more about why they are behaving in specific ways. 

The fact is, the subconscious motivates behaviors. Through play therapy, the child can start to have better control over their own emotions—and thus, change happens. Therapy can give them the tools and resources to feel empowered.

Looking to a Brighter Future

As a parent, it’s important that you understand that no matter how your child may be acting right now, any negative behaviors don’t have to last forever. Once your child is able to understand their own thoughts and behaviors from a clearer perspective, it’s likely those “negative” actions will change. 

Has your child been through a loss lately? Are they acting out in ways you don’t understand? It’s okay to feel overwhelmed, especially if you’re dealing with the same loss. 

Please, don’t lose hope. Child therapy/play therapy can really make a difference.

If you have an interest in play therapy for your child, please feel free to contact me for more information. Remember, the situation doesn't have to remain the way it is right now forever. With play therapy, your child can do what they love to do and heal at the same time.