Treatments & Therapies

Play therapy – treatment, effects and risks

Play therapy

For a child, playing plays a crucial role in its development. It is challenged and encouraged through games, which is why play therapy has been used and further developed as a healing approach for various diseases since 1920. Depending on the type of therapy, certain areas are addressed.

What is play therapy?

Play therapy is a psychoanalytic approach used in child psychology. It was developed by the psychoanalyst Hermine Hug-Hellmuth in the first quarter of the 20th century. In the years that followed, it was adopted and further developed by various people. The child’s body is stimulated to heal as part of various games as a therapeutic measure.

The patients naturally follow their innate play instinct, which contributes to their development and serves to develop different character traits. In addition, it promotes learning behavior. Children get to know themselves and their environment through play and stimulate their brains . In this way, the child’s memory is promoted and children learn to express themselves. Difficulties in childhood that cannot be mastered by the parents can lead to psychological problems.

Parents are often unable to cope with these problems on their own. Play therapy can help here, as the legal guardians also learn their child’s special way of expression. In addition, the therapist can use the game to determine whether longer therapy is required. For children up to their teens, play therapy is the method of choice for expressing themselves non-verbally and dealing with thoughts that they would not otherwise express.

Function, effect & goals

The goals of play therapy are, on the one hand, to reduce neurotic behavior and to gain new insights. On the other hand, the child awakens his abilities and learns to put his feelings into words. In addition, you learn to appreciate and accept yourself. Another goal is the development of problem-solving strategies and the development of emotional stability.Play therapy is used when children suffer from a developmental delay or slowdown, for example. In addition, there are often emotional and psychosomatic problems. These show up in fearful, aggressive or often shy behavior. The children appear restless, fidgety or refuse completely. Emotional stress can cause chronic abdominal pain and headacheslead, for which no physical cause can usually be found. Depending on their age, affected children defecate or wet themselves again, although they are long past that age. Play therapy is also used for social difficulties. Affected children rarely play, usually have few friends and have difficulties talking to other children. They do not know how to behave towards others and often have problems following the rules. At school they can be outsiders and at home there are strong rivalries with siblings, for example.

Emotional problems can have many causes. Difficult domestic situations are often responsible for this. This includes parental separations or divorces, as well as relocations or losses that they have to cope with. If the child himself or someone close to him is ill, this means great stress, which can lead to apathy or aggression. Outside the home, bullying and violence at school can also be the reason for behavioral problems.

In order not only to find out these things, but also to find possible solutions, different types of play are used in therapy. This includes various types of functional play used by infants and young children. New skills are acquired through repetition of action sequences. Another possibility is the so-called symbol game, in which behavior or objects have to be remembered. The task of imitating the parents is also possible, in which fictitious actions must be reenacted. In addition, in the construction game, the child learns to organize itself, to learn through failure and to experiment. It also learns social behavior through role-playing games.

This usually takes the form of doctor or father-mother-child games in which the child slips into one of the roles. This is a way of processing positive and negative experiences and giving the therapist clues to difficulties. In games with rules, children learn to stick to agreements. They should also learn to deal with frustration and develop an understanding of right and wrong. The prerequisite for the rule game is the ability to express yourself verbally or non-verbally. Most of these approaches are also used by remedial educators and curative education nurses .


Play therapy has some special features. This primarily includes the absence of a therapeutic atmosphere. Children receiving psychological treatment often feel pressured or intimidated. With play therapy, on the other hand, they can relax and quickly forget about the therapy itself. In addition, it is easier for them to establish a connection to the therapist. The different games naturally arouse joy and excitement as well as curiosity. 

This helps in the natural development of the child and offers the opportunity for development. Characteristics of play therapy are, for example, desensitization through repetition games, forgetting about time and dealing with the environment. Self-esteem is strengthened and the game serves as an outlet for pent-up feelings. In addition, children learn to articulate themselves and to express themselves in language. This allows problems to be better handled and resolved.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.