Play Therapy:  Key Types and Wellbeing Benefits for Children

who have Trouble Communicating their Emotions

by Kimberly Bartlett, LICSW, LCSW, RPT-S


Play Therapy is to children what counseling is to adults. Play Therapy is a structured, theoretically based approach to therapy that is strategically used to help children express what is troubling them. Play allows a safe psychological distance from their problems, which allows them to express their true thoughts and feelings in ways best suited to their developmental level.


Licensed professionals use play therapeutically to help clients better process their experiences and develop more effective strategies for managing their lives. Research shows Play Therapy is beneficial for people of all ages, but is especially helpful for children as they learn to communicate with others more effectively, express feelings,develop problem-solving skills and learn a variety of healthy ways of relating to others. It is a fun and enjoyable way to elevate young spirits and foster greater self-expression and relieve stress. Play Therapy has proven especially effective for kids experiencing a wide variety of social, emotional, behavioral and learning problems, including children whose problems are related to life’s stressors such as divorce, death, anxiety, chroninc illness, physical or sexual abuse, relocation, or natural disasters.


There are more than 25 “types” of Play Therapy. Play Therapy is a way theoretical models of psychotherapy are used with a client. Just like in “talk therapy” therapists are trained to utilize certain theories of treatment. A talk therapist might use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as the theoretical model for treatment with a teen or adult whereas a Play Therapist would use Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapy with a child. At Evergreen Play Therapy we utilize an Integrative Play Therapy framework, which allows a range of play therapy models to be drawn from and applied in an integrative way. We also use a model in its pure form when appropriate for a session or across sessions. Ask about your therapist’s approach as it could be very different from other play therapists or your assumptions.

Some examples of Play Therapy theories include:


  • Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapy

This is a particularly useful approach for older children and children that are aware, open and ready to discuss the challenges they’ve come to therapy for.


  • Client Centered Play Therapy

In this school of thought the client is assisted in expressing their feelings and finding solutions by being given the opportunity to bring forward what they feel is most critical to them. This allows the child to address what is most difficult through symbolism. The therapist joins their world through accepting symbolism.


  • Narrative Play Therapy

Some clients will come home with written stories or create live action stories with their therapist in session. The focus can be to recreate the story of something difficult and provide a more self-actualizing experience thereby gaining insight and expressing one’s feelings, cognitions and skills among other benefits.


  • Theraplay

Theraplay is a family therapy for building and enhancing attachment, self-esteem, trust in others, and joyful engagement. It is based on the natural patterns of playful, healthy interaction between parent and child and is personal, physical, and fun. Theraplay interactions focus on four essential qualities found in parent-child relationships: Structure, Engagement, Nurture, and Challenge. Theraplay sessions create an active, emotional connection between the child and parent or caregiver, resulting in a changed view of the self as worthy and lovable and of relationships as positive and rewarding.


In treatment, the Theraplay therapist guides the parent and child through playful, fun games, developmentally challenging activities, and tender, nurturing activities. The very act of engaging each other in this way helps the parent regulate the child’s behavior and communicate love, joy, and safety to the child. It helps the child feel secure, cared for, connected and worthy.

Play Therapy is a well researched technique that has proven effective as a psychological and therapeutic treatment. Parents can also be involved in the practice to further strengthen bonds and communication. Ask your therapist how and when to best interact with Play Therapy sessions and most of all, be patient with your child’s progress.

About the Author

Kimberly Bartlett, is a dedicated professional in the field of play therapy, holding the titles of Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor™ and Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker. As the proud owner of Evergreen Play Therapy, she channels her passion into utilizing Integrative Play Therapy to facilitate transformative change and growth in children and families. Through this approach, she creates a nurturing space where healing, self-expression, and skill development thrive. For more information and to schedule a consult visit



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