By Kristy Chalmers, BICS Clinician, Counselling Services, Catholic Family Service

Children are born with the natural ability to play. They communicate messages and process inner thoughts and feelings through their play. This is what makes play a wonderful way to help children work through their problems.

Play is a developmentally appropriate and respectful way to work with children because they often don’t have the cognitive ability and insight to verbalize their feelings. Children who have experienced any form of trauma are often developmentally and/or emotionally delayed, so play allows the child to let parents, teachers and counsellors know what is important to them and it allows these adults to meet them where they are at.

In counselling, there are many different play techniques used to interact with clients. This may include sand tray, clay, dollhouses and art. The great thing about using play is there is no age when this stops being an effective tool. Art and sand tray can also be effective when working with adults, couples and families because it gives the clients a different perspective on the identified problem.

Often people worry that if they send their child to play therapy, then they are just “playing.” This is certainly not the case. Counsellers have an ability to articulate and verbalize the play in a way that gives meaning to the child’s experiences and inner thoughts. Children also tell a story through their play. As these stories unfold within one session or across many sessions, themes are identified by the counsellor. The story is then communicated to the parent/guardian so they have a better understanding of the child’s inner experiences and are able to support them based on this new information.

Have you ever asked your child, “How was your day?” only to have them respond by saying . . . “Fine!”

If this is the response you get and you worry your child really may have some troubling issues or challenges that they need help with, then seeing a counsellor that uses play may be a helpful next step. Please call our Engagement Team at 403.205.5294 to see if our counselling services could be of help to your child and family.

If you are expecting to get a counsellor that sits your child on the couch and says, “Tell me what you are feeling and what is troubling you,” this is not what you will get at Catholic Family Service! You will get someone who will really hear your child’s life story, through whatever avenue they express it – including their play.

Thank you to Samantha Merrit and Marcella Galizia for collaborating on this article.

Counsellors at Catholic Family Service may utilize play therapy techniques within a number of programs and services, including Affordable Counselling and the Family and Youth Sexual Abuse Treatment Program.