Amy Weber, LCSW

Play-based Individual and Group Psychotherapy

What do sessions look like?

There’s a bit of a communication gap between children and adults. Depending on age and stage of development, children simply don’t have the language skills of adults. They may feel something, but in many cases, they either can’t express it to an adult or don’t have a trusted adult to express it to.  On the other end, adults can misinterpret or completely miss the child’s verbal and nonverbal cues.  Children learn to understand the world and their place in it through play. It’s where they’re free to act out their inner feelings and deepest emotions. Toys can act as symbols and take on greater meaning — if you know what to look for.  Since the child can’t adequately express themselves in the adult world, the therapist joins the child in their world, on their level.  As they play, the child may become less guarded and more apt to share their feelings. But they aren’t pressured. They’re allowed to do so in their own time and with their own method of communication.  Play therapy will differ depending on the therapist and the particular needs of the child. To begin, the therapist may want to observe the child at play. They may also want to conduct separate interviews with the child, parents, or teachers.  After a thorough assessment, the therapist will set some therapeutic goals, decide on what limits may be necessary, and formulate a plan for how to proceed.  Play therapists pay close attention to how a child handles being separated from the parent, how they play alone, and how they react when the parent returns.  Much can be revealed in how a child interacts with different types of toys and how their behavior changes from session to session. They may use play to act out fears and anxieties, as a soothing mechanism, or to heal and problem-solve.  Play therapists use these observations as a guide to the next steps. Each child is different, so therapy will be tailored to their individual needs. As therapy progresses, behaviors and goals can be reassessed.

Sessions typically last 45 minutes and are held once a week. How many sessions are needed depends on the child and how well they respond to this type of therapy. Therapy can take place individually or in groups.  Play therapy can be directive or nondirective. In the directive approach, the therapist will take the lead by specifying the toys or games that’ll be used in the session. The therapist will guide the play with a specific goal in mind.  The nondirective approach is less structured. The child is able to choose toys and games as they see fit. They’re free to play in their own way with few instructions or interruptions. The therapist will observe closely and participate as appropriate.


Sessions must take place in an environment where the child feels safe and where there are few limitations. The therapist may use techniques that involve:

  • creative visualization
  • storytelling
  • role-playing
  • toy phones
  • puppets, stuffed animals, and masks
  • dolls, action figures
  • arts and crafts
  • water and sand play
  • blocks and construction toys
  • dance and creative movement
  • musical play

Depending on the child and the situation, the therapist will either guide the child toward certain methods of play or let them choose for themselves. There are any number of ways the therapist can use play therapy to get to know the child and help them cope with their problems.  For example, the therapist might offer the child a dollhouse and some dolls, asking them to act out some problems they have at home. Or they might encourage the child to use hand puppets to recreate something they found stressful or frightening.  They might ask your child to tell a “once upon a time” story to see what the child might bring to light. Or they might read stories that solve a problem similar to your child’s. This is referred to as bibliotherapy.  It could be as simple as asking questions while your child is drawing or painting to try to gain insights into their thought process. Or play various games with the child to encourage problem-solving, cooperation, and social skills.



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