It is play that is universal and that belongs to health: playing facilitates growth and therefore health” (D.W. Winnicott,1971)
Play is free and effortless expression. It is of vital importance to man because it feeds our imagination and leads us to new ways of looking at life and of dealing with it. It is a necessary condition for growth and it is as important as the mother’s embrace.
For the child play is ‘work’, a way to explore and take charge of both the outside world and of his internal conflicts. Through it the child expresses and processes and dramatizes his fantasies. He gives new meaning to the contents of the play and redefines his position in them.
The play of a child playing by himself (or with his friends) is different to play in the presence of a special therapist in the context of a therapeutic process. In the latter case, the play is a means to an end. The child is under observation; he receives attention and is given permission and reinforcement to play.
In play therapy, play becomes a symbolic process. As the child creates images, stories, dramatic play, is playing with various objects and toys, the symbolic nature of play creates in the child a safety distance from his experience. Play takes place in a therapeutic space, which is in fact a transitional space between the child and the therapist, an alternate reality, a space that allows the child to transcend and transform the experience.
To offer this opportunity to the child, the therapist shall structure therapy in a way that will allow the child to fully understand the significance of their mutual play, to know the rules and to be willing to participate.
In play therapy the therapist by respecting the child’s limits and rhythms helps it process issues that preoccupy him and are central to his life. Special interventions clarify events that have received an interpretation in the child’s life and thus, if needed, they are examined, modified, erased or reorganized. Play therapy is used principally in children of a pre-school or school age who have emotional difficulties, have experienced a dramatic event or have difficulties in conquering developmental stages.
The aims of play therapy are:
- To socialize the child
- To develop his creativity
- To help him understand his feelings, difficulties and conflicts
- To organize the Ego
- To help him understand the meaning of “I am” and of “I want”