A therapist sits down on the floor to talk at the same level with two children.

What is Child Centered Play Therapy and what is it used to treat?

Child Centered Play Therapy (CCPT) is a therapeutic intervention that is developmentally targeted to children 4 -12 years of age. This intervention uses non-directive play therapy – where the child directs their play – as the healing intervention.

CCPT has exceptional efficacy for reducing symptoms and increasing the functioning of children who are struggling with a variety of challenges including anxiety, depression, life and family changes, trauma exposure, separation anxiety, grief and loss, behavioral concerns, parental separation and divorce, neurodevelopmental challenges, among others.

How long does CCPT typically last and why is it appropriate for children?

Children typically attend CCPT therapy weekly for an average of 9 months on a weekly basis to meet their treatment goals. Sessions are 45-60 minutes long. The therapist regularly meets with the child’s caregivers to give updates on their progress and to support caregivers as they support their kids. 

In CCPT, children come to a play therapy room that is set up intentionally to facilitate a child’s healing. The child is encouraged to feel empowered in the playroom, and to play with anything they want to. The playroom has toys along a series of themes: nurturance, aggression, competition, mastery, exploration, fantasy/pretend, and others. The child then is encouraged to process their experiences through play. 

Play is a developmentally targeted intervention for children. Often, children do not have the words they need to process their experiences comprehensively – thoughts, emotions, actions, etc. Sometimes the difficult experiences a child has had are stored more in their body than consciously in their mind, so language does not allow the child to fully process what they have stored in their body. A child’s work is play – and it is well-researched that play is a developmental need – it helps children to understand and make sense of their world. 

What’s the role of the therapist in CCPT?

The Child Centered Play Therapist’s job is to create an environment where the child is able to fully express themselves and process their feelings, needs, and experiences through play. The therapist does this by reflecting to the client throughout each meeting (like a sportscaster) what the child is doing, what feelings they are expressing, and the possible purpose or intent of their play behavior. This allows for deep attunement to the client’s experience and facilitates deeper and deeper processing. 

In Child Centered Play Therapy the child moves through four stages of play – Warm Up, Aggression, Regression, and finally Mastery. Symptoms tend to increase in the Aggression stage as difficult feelings are processed, and then typically resolve by the time the child reaches Mastery. 

Is CCPT trauma-informed and culturally responsive?

Child Centered Play Therapy is a trauma-responsive and culturally responsive therapy intervention with significant research evidence published on its efficacy for a variety of childhood concerns. It is empowering, oriented towards healthy attachment relationships, and children can create any cultural meanings they like in the playroom without it being mediated by the perspective of their therapist.

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Northeast Youth & Family Services is a nonprofit, community-based, and trauma-informed mental health and community services organization that has been serving your friends and neighbors in the northeastern Saint Paul suburbs since 1976. Among our many programs, we offer two convenient mental health clinic locations in Shoreview and White Bear Lake, MN.

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