What is childhood trauma?
In Australia, one in four adults has experienced significant childhood trauma (Kezelman et al., 2015). Childhood trauma is caused by significant adverse events or experiences that cause emotional or psychological distress, such as abuse, violence, natural disasters, accidents, illness, or loss. Childhood trauma can also result from parents experiencing their own trauma, such as untreated mental illness, being involved in a severe accident or substance abuse.
What is play therapy?
Play therapy is a developmentally appropriate mental health treatment for children ages 3-12 years old experiencing a range of emotional, psychological and behavioural issues. In play therapy, children use various toys to explore their thoughts, feelings and behaviours in a safe therapeutic environment. Play Therapy is conducted by a trained mental health professional. Registered Play Therapists have undertaken further studies in play therapy, attended their own personal therapy, and achieved certain play therapy practice hours and supervision to qualify for the registration.
How do play therapy techniques address trauma?
1. Play provides a safe and non-threatening way for children to communicate their thoughts and feelings.
2. Children can explore and process traumatic events in a safe therapeutic environment.
3. Trained therapists utilize developmentally appropriate interventions such as child-centered play therapy, which enables the child to lead the play and provides children with a sense of empowerment.
4. In play therapy, the therapist may use directive techniques, including storytelling and role-playing, to help children process their trauma and develop coping skills.
5. When children play out their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, they can develop a sense of control over their experiences, reducing the risk of developing long-term issues related to trauma.
Research on play therapy and trauma
Several studies have identified the effectiveness of play therapy for children who have experienced trauma. For example, a meta-analysis by Ray et al. (2015) found that play therapy significantly reduced trauma-related symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, anger, PTSD, and behavioural problems. Another study by Landreth et al. (2010) showed that play therapy increased children’s resilience and improved their self-esteem and social competence.
There are many considerations regarding the individual and unique needs of children who have experienced trauma. If you would like to explore play therapy or other therapeutic interventions for
your child who has experienced trauma, please feel free to reach out and book an appointment online.
Kezelman, C., Hossack, N., Stavropoulos, P., & Burley, P. (2015). The cost of unresolved childhood trauma and abuse in adults in Australia. Sydney: Adults Surviving Child Abuse and Pegasus Economics.
Landreth, G. L., Ray, D. C., Sweeney, D. S., Homeyer, L. E., & Glover, G. J. (Eds.). (2010). Play therapy interventions with children’s problems: Case studies with DSM-IV-TR diagnoses. Jason Aronson.
Ray, D. C., Armstrong, S. A., Balkin, R. S., & Jayne, K. M. (2015). Child-centred play therapy in the schools: Review and meta‐analysis. Psychology in the Schools, 52(2), 107-123.
Author: Dr Sam Casey