Child-centred Play Therapy (CCPT) is an evidence-based approach used to address children's emotional and behavioural difficulties. CCPT is a non-directive, non-judgemental, and child-led therapeutic approach that allows children to express themselves freely through play.
It is based upon the fact that play is the child’s natural medium of self-expression and is an opportunity for the child to ‘play out’ their feelings and problems just as, in certain types of adult therapy, an individual ‘talks out’ their difficulties (Virginia Axline, 1947).
Children and young people may not have the language, cognitive and emotional development to put feelings into words about experiences and difficulties that are impacting their well-being. Therefore, talking therapies may be inappropriate.
Landreth (2012) wrote a fabulous quote that encapsulates this self-expression perfectly “Toys are children’s words and play is their language.”
Why is Play Important?
In play, children learn about themselves, others and their world. Play is considered a right for all children, everywhere, to achieve their optimal development.
The UN Convention (Article 31) recognises that free play is not an optional extra for children: it is fundamental to their physical, social, mental and emotional development and intrinsic to their health and happiness in the present moment.
How Does Child-Centred Play Therapy Work?
In CCPT, the Play Therapist creates a safe and nurturing environment where the child is free to play with a wide range of toys and materials. The Play Therapist acts as a facilitator, providing unconditional positive regard, empathy, acceptance and understanding without attempting to direct or control the child’s play.
The child is gently encouraged to express their thoughts, feelings and experiences through their play. The Play Therapist responds with warmth and acceptance, reflecting the child’s play and emotions back to them non-judgementally and entering their world.
However, when the child feels safe with the Play Therapist, they will begin to express and explore their emotionally meaningful experiences. This cannot be rushed or made to happen; this is the child’s time, it goes at their pace and developmental level, and this must be respected (Landreth, 2012).
It is a bottom-up approach, which aims to rebuild the child’s internal belief systems rather than their cognition. This process takes repetition and time.
Key Benefits of Child-Centred Play Therapy:
There are many benefits to child-centred play therapy, and I believe these are important.
CCPT provides a safe and supportive space where children can explore their feelings, experiences, and inner world, which can help them to feel more confident and empowered. When children are allowed to express themselves freely through play, they gain a sense of control over their environment and emotional state. This can increase their self-esteem and help them to develop a stronger sense of self-worth.
Play is a natural way for children to release and regulate their emotions. Through play, children can process difficult emotions such as anger, sadness, and anxiety in a safe and healthy way.
CCPT helps children to identify and express their emotions and how to manage and regulate them in a healthy way. This can lead to a reduction in emotional outbursts and an increase in self-control.
CCPT provides a space for children to heal from emotional wounds and grow emotionally. Children who have experienced trauma, loss, or other significant life changes can benefit from CCPT as it helps them to process their experiences in a safe and supportive environment. By expressing their feelings through play, children can begin to make sense of their experiences and move towards healing and growth.
CCPT can help children to improve their communication and social skills. Through play, children can practice social interactions, learn to express themselves in a healthy way, and develop empathy and understanding towards others. As children learn to communicate and interact more effectively, they may experience improved relationships with peers, parents, and other adults.
CCPT can help children to develop resilience, which is the ability to bounce back from difficult experiences. By learning to regulate their emotions, express themselves effectively, and build healthy coping strategies, children can become more resilient and better equipped to face future challenges.
Child-centred Play Therapy has been proven to be highly effective and a powerful tool for helping children overcome emotional difficulties, build resilience and develop healthy coping strategies.
It provides a safe and supportive space for children to express themselves freely through play, which can lead to improved self-esteem, emotional regulation, communication skills, and resilience.
If you are concerned about your child's emotional well-being, consider seeking out a qualified CCPT therapist to provide support and guidance.
Written By Esther Schencks BSc, MA
BAPT Registered Play Therapist®
Axline, V., M. (1947) Play Therapy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Landreth, G., L. (2012) Play Therapy: The Art of the Relationship. (3rd ed.) New York: Routledge.