Child Play Therapy - OnlineBiofeedback: Center for Biofeedback & Behavior Therapy
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Child Play Therapy

What is Child Play Therapy?

(adapted from the Center for Play Therapy- University of North Texas)

Dr. Garry L. Landreth, internationally known for his writings and work in promoting the development of play therapy, is a Regents Professor at the University of North Texas. He is the founder of the Center for Play Therapy, the largest play therapy training program in the world, and has conducted workshops focusing on play therapy throughout the United States and in Canada, Europe, China, South Africa and South Korea. Dr. Landreth has more than 100 publications and videos including three books on group counseling and eight books on play therapy. His award winning book Play Therapy: The Art of the Relationship, an Accelerated Development Press bestseller, has been translated into Chinese, Russian and Korean. Dr. Landreth is a licensed professional counselor, founding member of the Board of Directors of the Association for Play Therapy, and a Registered Play Therapy Supervisor. He has received numerous professional honors including:

• Meadows Honor Professor Award
• President’s Outstanding Professor Award
• Toulouse Scholar Award
• Regents Distinguished Professor Award
• American Association for Counseling and Development Humanitarian and Caring Person Award
• Virginia Axline Distinguished Professional Award
• Shelton Excellence in Teaching Award
• Texas Association for Play Therapy Distinguished Contribution Award
• University of North Texas President’s Award
• Association for Specialists in Group Work Research Award
• Association for Counselor Education and Supervision Counseling Vision and Innovation Award

Play therapy is to children what counseling is to adults. Play therapy utilizes play, children’s natural medium of expression, to help them express their feelings more easily through toys instead of words. In the textbook Play Therapy: The Art of the Relationship (2nd ed.), Landreth (2002) defined child-centered play therapy:


A dynamic interpersonal relationship between a child (or person of any age) and a therapist trained in play therapy procedures who provides selected play materials and facilitates the development of a safe relationship for the child (or person of any age) to fully express and explore self (feelings, thoughts, experiences, and behaviors) through play, the child’s natural medium of communication, for optimal growth and development. (p. 16)

“Toys and materials should be selected, not collected.” (Landreth, 2002, p. 133) The toys and materials are the medium in which children in play therapy express themselves. These therapeutically selected items serve an important role in play therapy and should be chosen based on sound rationale. Below are general guidelines to follow when selecting playroom items.Toys should provide variety in choice of expression Toys should be durable Toys should not be complex Toys should allow reality testing of limits Toys should allow development of positive self-image as well as self-control. Toys and materials can have an effect on the type and amount of expression and interaction with the therapist. Selection of the toys should be done with attention to the impact they will have on growth of the child.  Dr. Garry Landreth in his textbook, Play Therapy: The Art of the Relationship, touches on three broad toy categories.


Real-Life Toys: This category consists of toys that are directly representative of real-world items including doll families, dollhouse, puppets, cars, boats, airplanes, cash register, and play money among other things.


Aggressive-Release Toys: This toy grouping allows for the release of emotions that are typically not allowed to be expressed in other settings and includes Bobo or the bop bag, toy soldiers, rubber knives, and toy guns (that purposely do not look realistic). Less obvious, but still important are egg cartoons and popcicle sticks that can be physically broken down and destroyed.


Creative Expression Toys: This category contains toys that allow for creativity. Paints, butcher paper and an easel, crayons, sand, water, and instruments. Depending on the setting of the playroom, some of these items may need to be replaced with an alternative item.


View Recommended Toys and Materials for the Playroom.


View a list of Toy Vendors where we purchase many of our playroom toys.


Material adapted from Landreth, G. L. (2002). Play therapy: The art of the relationship. (2nd ed.). New York: Brunner-Routledge.