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The Power of Play

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By Caroline Oas

He walked in the room and stopped in his tracks. Toys lined the walls – dress-up, puppets, a kitchen, a tool bench, legos, a punching bag, art supplies, and so much more. “I can play with anything I want in here?” he asked. This isn’t what he thought therapy would be like. He was expecting a couch or a chair, some lamps, and someone with a notepad, asking him lots of questions about his family and why he gets so angry all the time. But here he stood, feeling like the world was his oyster. 

And there I stood in the room with him, welcoming him to a special room where he is in charge. He could choose what we did for the hour, how we played (within reason), and all the while, I would be keenly attentive to all he was doing. Most 10-year-olds rarely get an adult’s full attention for 10 minutes, let alone an entire 50-minute therapy session. It’s empowering, and can create a rare feeling of complete freedom within that magical room. As the weeks went on, the play turned from fun and exploratory to more focused, intentional, often bringing about powerful conversations with me and allowing him to open up on his own terms. By the end of our time together over several months, he was leaving a more confident child, more in-control of his behaviors and emotions.

To the untrained eye, on the table in the playroom is just a simple tray filled with sand, and some miniature toys – miniature trees, people, superhero figurines, animals. Nothing profound on their own. They’re things that might normally be passed up by a child in favor of a Nintendo Switch or watching YouTube videos. But in the play therapy room, these items transform into words, into a language otherwise untapped into from a child in desperate need to be understood. The people, the animals, the figurines become – often without true realization for the child – representative of people and experiences in the child’s world. They give the child the ability to play out certain scenarios that may be too complicated, stressful or scary to talk about using words. That is the beauty of play therapy. Simple objects take on profound meaning and become vessels for children to open up, communicate, process grief/trauma, and ultimately understand themselves more deeply, finding healing and inner strength. 

That is why play therapy is so powerful, poignant, transformative. And it doesn’t stop at the toys or the playroom, or even the interventions by the therapist. The most powerful thing about a child’s experience in play therapy is the relationship with the therapist. Play therapy allows a child to learn to trust and be truly seen by a loving, supportive, present adult. It is ultimately the combination of the trusting, caring relationship and the play therapy itself that brings about the child’s most whole and true self. 

I believe that within each child lies the capacity for growth, to express emotions in a healthy way, to experience healing from their hurts, their trauma, their losses. Children don’t need to be “fixed” by a therapist, and there is no perfect formula that works for every child. Play therapy is about the child finding themselves again, communicating through the safety of toys, letting their true self shine through. It’s a beautiful experience that I feel honored to share with the children in my sessions.

If you would like to learn more about play-based therapy offered at Youthfront’s affiliate, Presence-Centered Counseling, or schedule a consultation, visit presencecenteredcounseling.com/services.

 


About Caroline Oas: Caroline is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in Kansas specializing in Child-Centered Play Therapy (CCPT) with children aged 4-10. Caroline also works with teenagers using a person-centered approach and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques. She is passionate about working with young people and helping them find inner healing and purpose. Caroline is a wife, dog mom to Winnie, Dunkin Donuts enthusiast and follower of Jesus.

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