Taking Play Therapy Seriously

Taking Play Therapy Seriously

The Surprising Journey to Widespread Acceptance

By Chris Lyford

May/June 2022

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old,” Irish poet and playwright George Bernard Shaw once said. “We grow old because we stop playing.”

Granted, Shaw wasn’t a doctor. And he probably never set foot in a psychotherapist’s office. He certainly wasn’t a model for healthy living, vociferously opposing the smallpox vaccine and calling alcohol “the anesthesia by which we endure the operation of life.” But even Shaw knew it: play is invaluable. It’s an essential part of our mental, physical, and emotional well-being.

So why don’t more therapists play? And why don’t we encourage clients to play as much as we tell them to worry less, sleep more, and eat better? It seems only natural. After all, we learn to play before we learn to walk and talk. In the hustle and bustle of it all, when did we forget such a vital part of ourselves?

Maybe if we want to shake off the rust, recapture some of that creative energy, and kindle more joy in our work and in our clients’ lives—without going too nuts—we can take a page from the playbook of our colleagues in the play therapy community.

You might be wondering, But how can you have fun when the subject matter is heavy? What clinically useful information can I glean from toys or a sand tray? How does play fit into my existing approach? How will I explain this to my insurance company? Is this even therapy? For more than a century, play therapists have been asked and have been asking themselves many of the same…

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