Play therapy can help children and young people build resilience which, in turn, helps them cope and be more engaged with treatment. Play can help give children their sense of control and autonomy back – which are often lost through illness and hospitalization. Play can also strengthen family wellbeing and relationships.

What are the core principles of child-centered play therapy?

Children possess an innate capacity to strive toward growth and maturity. The play therapy relationship facilitates the development of that capacity. Play is a young child’s most natural way to communicate.

Play provides the opportunity for development of self-control and facilitates exploration of the self and others. It allows children to express their needs symbolically (without any need for verbalization) and provide for expression of a wide range of feelings.

Play therapy techniques

  • creative visualization
  • storytelling
  • role-playing
  • toy phones
  • puppets, stuffed animals, and masks
  • dolls, action figures
  • arts and crafts
  • water and sand play.

Medical play 

Medical play allows children to work out (or “play” out) their feelings or anxieties regarding medical experiences. Angry or aggressive feelings may surface during play. These feelings are a normal response and for the most part should be allowed and supported. By helping a patient get a better grasp on their plan of care, it encourages him or her to feel more in control of their treatment, which can help the medical team and lead to improved outcomes.

Sand therapy

Sand therapy is a therapeutic approach used for people who have experienced a traumatic event such as a medical diagnosis, abuse or a catastrophic incident. Although this type of therapy is used most often with children, sand play therapy can also be helpful for teens and adults. Sand tray therapy allows a person to construct their own microcosm using miniature toys and colored sand. The scene created acts as a reflection of the person’s own life and allows them the opportunity to resolve conflicts, remove obstacles, and gain acceptance of self.