Play therapy is generally employed with children ages 3 to 11, play provides a way for children to express their experiences and feelings through a natural, self-guided, self-healing process. As children’s experiences and knowledges are often communicated through play, it becomes an important vehicle for them know and accept themselves and others.
Play Therapy is the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial challenges and achieve optimal growth and development. A working definition might be a form of counseling or psychotherapy that therapeutically engages the power of play to communicate with and help people, especially children, to engender optimal integration and individuation.
Play Therapy is often used as tool of diagnosis. A play therapist observes a client playing with toys (play-houses, pets, dolls, etc) to determine the cause of the disturbed behaviour. The objects and patterns of play, as well as the willingness to interact with the therapist can be used to understand the underlying rationale for behavior both inside and outside the session.
According to the psychodynamic view, people (especially children) will engage in play behaviour in order to work through their interior obfuscations and anxieties. In this way play therapy can be used as a self-help mechanism, as long as children are allowed time for 'free play' or 'unstructured play'. From a developmental point of view, play has been determined to be an essential component of healthy child development. Play has been directly linked to cognitive development.
One approach to treatment, is for play therapists use a type of systematic desensitization or relearning therapy to change the disturbing behaviour, either systematically or in less formal social settings. These processes are normally used with children, but are also applied with other pre-verbal, non-verbal, or verbally-impaired persons, such as slow-learners, brain-injured or drug-affected persons. Mature adults usually need much "group permission" before indulging in the relaxed spontaneity of play therapy, so a very skilled group worker is needed to deal with such guarded individuals.
Many mature adults find that "child's play" is so difficult and taboo, that most experienced group workers need specially tailored "play" strategies to reach them. Competent adult-group workers will use these play strategies to enable more unguarded spontaneity to develop in the non-childish student. 
Also see Sand tray therapy.
Sandtray or Sandbox Therapy is a form of experiential workshop which allows greater exploration of deep emotional issues. Sandplay therapy is suitable for children and adults and allows them to reach a deeper insight into and resolution of a range of issues in their lives such as deep anger, depression, abuse or grief.
Through a safe and supportive process they are able to explore their world using a sandtray and a collection of miniatures. Accessing hidden or previously unexplored areas is often possible using this expressive and creative way of working which does not rely on “talk” therapy.
"Sand Tray participants are invited to create a diorama (a story or miniature world) by arranging toy people, animals, and other items in the sandtray. The therapist evaluates the participant's choice and use of objects to draw various conclusions about the subject's psychological health. This non-invasive method works especially well with those individuals who are young or have trouble comprehending and talking about difficult issues, such as domestic or child abuse, incest, or the death of a family member."
Play Therapy by Virginia Axline (original print 1947). ISBN 0-345-30335-0. Houfton Mifflin Company.
- Association of Play Therapy
- The Play Therapy Institute
- Play Therapy. ERIC Digest.
- Sandtray Therapy
- Play Therapy in AustraliaTemplate:Psychology-stub