Can Playtime Be More Than Just Fun Time? 5 Effects of Child-Centered Play Therapy

By Aziza Kennedy, StandOut Connect
March 20, 2024

What Is CCPT?

As adults face challenges, they have experiences to lookback on and use as guidance in seeing future outcomes, but children simply don’t have as much life experience. They don’t have memories of how a problem was resolved, or how it can have positive resolutions. Child-Centered Play Therapy, abbreviated as CCPT, is a therapeutic approach that aims to provide a safe and nurturing environment for children to express themselves, explore their feelings, and work through challenges through the natural language of children, playing. The Greek philosopher Plato (429-347 B.C.) once said “you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” Much more further research has been done on the science behind play since then. CCPT was officially created by Virginia Axline in 1947, where she stated that the therapist must develop a warm, friendly relationship with the child, be accepting towards them, and allow them to direct the conversation and lead the way. CCPT at Juno Counseling and Wellness can include activities such as storytelling, role-playing, arts and crafts, stuffed animals, blocks, music and dance, dolls/puppets, action figures, and more.

5 Effects of CCPT Are…

●      Increased Emotional Expression

●      Increased Self-Esteem and Confidence

●      Improved Problem-Solving Skills

●      Alleviation of Anxiety

●      Positive Behavioral Changes


What Qualifies My Child for CCPT?

Parents may fear that contacting a the rapist means they are a “bad” parent if they can’t handle these issues at home. However, eliciting outside help from a professional counselor gives your child a safe space in which to talk about what may seem scary or concerning to them without worries of disappointing their parents or getting in trouble for not being “happy” all of the time. A therapist is trained to listen without judgment or consequences, to allow your child to say whatever they are feeling even if it sounds mean or scary, and to help your child finally feel a sense of control over the problems they’re facing.

●      CCPT is most useful for children ages 3-11

●       There are many challenges that come along with growing up and CCPT helps children cope with current issues as well as learn how to cope for future situations

●       Some examples of hardships children face that CCPT provides support for include, but are not limited to: family problems (divorce, death, addiction, trauma), school problems (bullying, social anxiety, learning issues), or self-image issues (body dysmorphia, self-esteem, or self-harm)

Here is a deep dive into the five effects of child-centered play therapy:

1) Emotional Expression:

CCPT encourages children to freely express their emotions through play. CCPT allows children to process emotions without needing the capacity of abstract thoughts. It provides an opportunity for children to act out feelings, experiences, and thoughts that they may not be able to express through words. Therapists help guide them to gain insight into their emotional experiences and develop healthier coping strategies. This helps bridge the gap between experience and understanding. By engaging in unstructured play with toys, art materials, and other expressive tools, children can act out and explore their feelings. This gives them the opportunity to externalize their internal experiences, such as fears, anxieties, or traumas, without the pressure of direct verbal communication.


2) Self-Esteem and Confidence:

Through play therapy, children develop a greater sense of self-worth and confidence as they are encouraged to make their own choices. In this safe, consistent therapeutic environment, a child can experience full acceptance, empathy, and understanding from their counselor. This enables them to express their authentic self through their preferred way of communication. Feeling accepted can make them more comfortable with expressing themselves. By articulating their feelings through play, children are allowed to gain greater insight into themselves; which will lead to them having better emotional expression long-term and allow them to have greater confidence in their abilities to communicate and overcome their fears. Self-esteem is crucial for kids of all ages as they continue to learn, thrive, and explore the world around them.


3) Problem-Solving Skills:

Itis often difficult for children, especially those with a limited vocabulary, to communicate their thoughts. But it is imperative that they do so in order to build their understanding of a good problem-solving process. Even in minor, everyday scenarios, children will observe and copy adults’ behavior. For example, in an incident where a parent loses their keys, they then become visibly annoyed, irritated, and possibly act out. Children may copy this same action while building a puzzle by losing one puzzle piece and then stopping and/or becoming angry because they are frustrated, rather than continuing on with the rest of the puzzle. However, utilizing kids’ strong ability to mimic can be extremely advantageous in teaching them problem-solving skills. Starting off with a small activity, such as showing them how to use a shape sorter, may then develop into helping them think through the problem-solving process needed for them to handle other activities and areas of their life that frustrate or upset them. Play therapy fosters the development of problem-solving skills as children navigate various scenarios and challenges presented during play sessions. Also, by exploring different roles through playtime, such as in role-play games, kids have the chance to think about different perspectives, allowing them to understand and achieve a better sense of control over what’s frustrating them. This also helps them to develop a greater sense of empathy, which is an important skill that can facilitate growth in many ways, especially if learned, or even just introduced, at a young age. Giving kids the chance to experiment with solutions in a safe and calm environment allows them to process outcomes, which improves the way they think through their decisions. This enhances their ability to cope with real-life situations and make better informed decisions.


4) Alleviation of Anxiety:

Most anxiety that people face comes from the feeling that they have a loss of control. Through CCPT, the child can play out situations that trouble them in order to help them feel in control and safe. Through consistent, empathetic, and nonjudgmental interactions, children can develop a secure attachment to the therapist, which can facilitate trust, emotional regulation, and the exploration of deeper issues. For most children, it is easier for them to express their emotions in a non-direct manner. Play therapy gives them this chance. It creates a safe and supportive environment that fosters rapport between the child and the therapist. This relationship is crucial for individuals with anxiety, as it helps them feel understood, accepted, and validated. The therapist acts as a guide and facilitator, helping the child navigate their anxieties and develop healthy coping strategies. Strategies that can last them a lifetime.


5) Behavioral Changes:

Relating to their improved ability to express emotions, CCPT often leads to observable behavioral changes in children as they gain insights into their emotions and experiences. CCPT has proven to effectively help kids manage their anger, which is a difficult emotion to handle, especially at a young age. Therapists guide kids to determine ways to manage and rise above their anger by exploring what the triggers are through different games and activities and then teaching them the coping strategies that work best for each individual child .Play therapy's focus on relationships and experience creates positive changes in the brain. While kids explore their concerns, the therapeutic relationship helps regulate their emotions, which permits the brain to make structural changes. These changes lead to better understanding and more adaptive behaviors. The coping strategies children learn helps them process difficult feelings and leads them to exhibit improved self-regulation, improved communication skills, the ability to work through inner conflict, the ability to address situational conflicts, and improved interpersonal relationships both within and outside the therapy setting.


Itis not uncommon for children to need extra support as they deal with complex emotions and new situations. Child-Centered Play Therapy is highly effective in supporting children's emotional and psychological well-being by honoring their natural inclination to play and express themselves creatively.



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