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  • Writer's pictureKathryn Wright

Child-Centered Play Therapy

Child-centered play therapy (CCPT) is a highly researched and evidence-based intervention typically used with children between the ages of 3-14. CCPT was originally founded in 1947 and has been perfected and defined throughout the years, giving us almost 80 years worth of studies and evidence proving the effectiveness and success of CCPT across populations, cultures, and behavioral diagnoses.

How does CCPT work?  Child-centered play therapy focuses on who the child is as an individual  person, and their thoughts, feelings, and physical being, rather than focusing on the problem or maladaptive behavior. CCPT therapists believe that children are holistically good beings and that due to life stressors they have developed maladaptive coping skills that are being displayed as inappropriate behaviors. By building a strong and accepting therapeutic relationship between the child and the therapist, the child is able to evaluate their self-worth and their perceived expectations from others. Through play the child is able to demonstrate the way they view themselves and the world around them. CCPT therapists believe in the child’s internal desire to positively grow and learn. By providing a safe, empathetic, and encouraging environment, the child is able to  develop their own healthy self-view based on their interactions with the therapist in the playroom. When children believe in themselves and trust in themselves, they begin to act the way they perceive themselves. By entering the child’s play, the child is given the opportunity to show the therapist how they see themselves and perceive their world. The therapist follows the child’s lead during play and reflects emotions, content, and information, thus showing the child empathy and understanding, which in turn creates a stage for change. What does CCPT sessions look like? In child-centered play therapy, specific toys are carefully selected and arranged in three categories (imaginative/creative, aggression release, and real life) to provide the child with the tools they need to communicate their struggles. In CCPT, play is the child’s language, and toys are their words. The therapist is trained to identify significant themes in the child’s play and is verbally engaged to facilitate growth and change. Child-centered play therapy is child led. Meaning the therapist does not go into sessions with a specific agenda and does not make recommendations or interrupt the child’s play. The child is given the full opportunity and attention to show the therapist what they need to work through. The therapist focuses on the present and meets the child where they are in the moment. The Stages of Play Therapy  The therapeutic process takes place across four stages. Initially the client and therapist must establish a therapeutic relationship in which the child grows to trust the therapist and environment as a safe place worthy of holding their struggles. CCPT is grounded in the philosophy that when children experience a genuine, accepting, empathetic, and warm relationship, they will become confident in their ability to self-heal and move toward holistic functioning.  In the next stage the child may appear to resist because they need to test the expectations and make sure the trust they have developed will not falter. In this stage the child also begins to self-identify their struggles, which can be scary to admit. We then move into the work stage, where the child actively takes to step to express their needs and begins to work through the struggles they have identified. This flows into the therapeutic growth, where the family begins to see a change in the child’s behaviors because not only are the needs identified by the child, but they have also began to learn healthy coping skills and appropriately process their needs. The last stage is crucial to the therapeutic process. All the child’s hard work was built on the foundation of trust between the child and therapist. In child-centered play therapy, therapists make a conscious effort to ensure healthy termination and empowers the child to be self-sufficient emotionally. 

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