Child-Centered Play Therapy is a non-directive evidence-based intervention for children between the ages of 3 and 9 years old.
The Child Centered Approach is grounded in the beliefs that a child’s language is play, & that children:
- Are not miniature adults
- Are resilient
- Are capable of deep emotions
- Are capable of positive self-direction & dealing with their world in creative ways
- Have an inherent tendency towards growth and maturity
- Grow at their own pace & cannot be sped up
- Have the right to remain silent
In Child-Centered Play Therapy, the therapist keeps the child in the lead, and acts as an active follower, only entering the child’s play when invited, and only participating in the child’s play in exactly the way the child directs.
The play therapy relationship and the playroom environment is more permissive than children usually experience in their everyday lives. This freedom creates opportunities for children to test boundaries, make choices, and experiment with new ways of being without experiencing correction or reprimand like they may in a school or home environment.
When kept in the lead, the child carries the responsibility of what to play with, how/when/if the play therapist is part of their play, what behavior is acceptable or not, etc., which means whatever happens in the play room is a direct result of the child’s own decision-making process. They get the credit for their achievements and their behavior, because the therapist is not a director or an accomplice, but rather an active witness, and therefore can claim none of the credit or blame.
Over time, the child recognizes that they carry the weight of what happens, what choices they make, what consequences those choices result in, and who they are in the playroom and in the therapeutic relationship. That self-awareness, and those experiences, increase the child’s self-confidence, encourage more appropriate behavior, develop an internal locus of control, and ultimately, nurture their ability to better maintain self-control.
“Child-Centered Play Therapy cultivates an internal locus of control by allowing the child to lead, to make choices for themselves, to struggle with and achieve things on their own, and by saluting those accomplishments with encouragement rather than praise.” -Landreth, 2012
Within this dynamic process, using play to communicate, children naturally bring what’s happening in their world to the surface. Whether it’s divorce, death of a loved one, the addition of a new baby, academic struggles, social struggles, anxiety, anger, trauma, fear, etc., the child will bring it up when they need to and how they need to- without the therapist asking a single question, or directing them to do so in any way- through their play.
The child-centered play therapist is trained to speak the language of play, and meet the child with warmth, empathy, genuineness, and unconditional positive regard. In this context the therapist uses a variety of non-directive skills and techniques to support the child, facilitate their play, and help them process what’s happening in the playroom, (which is a reflection of what is happening in their lives), until they are able to find mastery, integration, and resolution.