Why should we go to a professional to play with my child, can’t I do that?

Helen O’Brien holds a Higher Diploma in Non­Directive Play Therapy, as well as a BA (Hons) Degree in Psychology, a Montessori Teaching Diploma and a Life and Executive Coaching Diploma. She’s a member of the Irish Play Therapy Association and works according to their Ethical Framework.

There is a clear distinction between playing and Play Therapy. Play Therapy has a therapeutic goal, whereas playing is for fun and learning.

Play is vital for child development on many levels- social, emotional, cognitive, physical, creative and language development. Children play with friends or by themselves to have fun and let off steam. Play therapy has a therapeutic objective. It utilises play, the natural language of children, to help them understand muddled feelings and upsetting events that they haven’t had the chance, or maturity, to process fully. Rather than having to explain what is troubling them, as adult talk therapies usually expect, children use play. In the secure surrounds of the Play Room, they communicate their inner world, at their own level, at their own pace, without feeling interrogated or threatened.

Helen O Brien 1

When a child enters the Play Therapy room for the first time, they can choose to play with any of the toys: sand tray, dressing up clothes, paints, crayons, clay, puppets, musical instruments. The Play Therapist respects the child’s choice, and plays along with them, to build up rapport, trust, and attachment. Once a strong attachment has been formed, the therapeutic work is well under way. The Play Therapist will enable your child to use these resources to express themselves without having to provide verbal explanations. The therapist is trained to use play, a child’s natural form of expression, as a means for understanding and communicating with children about feelings, thoughts and behaviour.

When a child attends Play Therapy, a therapeutic goal is established. This can range from improving self-esteem, learning to cope with anger issues, developing self-confidence, learning to manage relationships and conflicts in more appropriate ways, or working through emotional issues created by traumatic events. This process begins with the parents/guardians.  A Play Therapist will begin by carefully listening to your concerns about your child. They will review their developmental history and gather information about the stresses the family have been through so they can help your child make sense of their world.

The parent’s role is very important in supporting children through the process. To achieve their goal, children go on an emotional journey, with the help of the Play Therapist.  Although the sessions will be enjoyable, it is also likely that during the time in the play room children will face some important issues and emotions. Sometimes they may re-enact or play out traumatic or difficult life experiences to help them make sense of their past and cope better with their future. This may be quite unsettling for them and sometimes things get worse before they get better. The Play Therapists role is to act as advocate for the child and offer parents support, advice and strategies that guide you on how best to help your child.

Some parents/guardians often delay seeking help because they worry that they will be blamed or judged for their child’s behaviour. Feeling responsible for a child’s distress or problems is a normal part of caring. Remember your Play Therapists aim is to help – never judge. The journey has its ups and downs, and over the course of sessions children will dip in and out of their own emotional process. With the emotional support of parents and the Play Therapist they acquire a greater understanding of their own feelings and thoughts, and develop skills to manage them . The process helps them resolve their problems, and get back to the important work of enjoying being a child.  


For further information on Play Therapy contact Helen O’Brien on 086 8157873

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