Marbles, Lincoln Logs, building blocks, board games, even Play Doh: all of these common toys become clinical tools in play therapy. Personalized treatment within our residential setting is a critical part of the Shelterwood plan, and we match teens with the best possible methods of intervention, making our therapeutic program intensely personal and purposeful. Shelterwood therapist LaTisha Robinson dives in to explain the power of play therapy and why it is one of the many therapies we use.

Play therapy as a clinical practice: Our defenses are naturally lowered when we play, says LaTisha. The shift from traditional talk therapy to play therapy can offer a fresh perspective. “Sometimes, we use play therapy as a modality when we feel like we have lost momentum therapeutically. This allows students to open up in a way that is different from the traditional talk therapy,” she explains. “Many teenagers anticipate the traditional talk therapy, and they are prepared for that. When we pull out blocks, Play-Doh or a board game, it shifts their mindset. It helps to open their eyes to new ideas.”

How Shelterwood approaches play therapy: “Every therapist has their own modality,” LaTisha explains. “Although teens have a chronological age, play therapy really taps into their brain age component. Sometimes, play therapy can help shift the conversation into a lighter mood. Teens become fully engaged in the process of it. The possibilities are truly endless.”

Processing and play therapy: Another advantage to play therapy is the underlying messages teens will share. “We get the unwritten messages,” LaTisha says. “We can pick up on things that teens would not otherwise vocalize. Through actions in playing, their defenses are being lowered and it opens up so many different pathways. With play, you are interacting on a completely different level.” Teens are able to build skills in processing and self-awareness as well.

Play therapy in action: LaTisha recalls a student who thrived as a result of his participation in play therapy. “This student was really struggling with trust. He was putting up walls, he was defensive and would frequently break rules. So we started playing with a football, just throwing it back and forth. He was not saying much at first, and had never told me anything related to his personal life. During one session, he finally opened up and started telling me stories about football games, how he had been hurt in the past, how people had let him down and much more,” she says. Whenever the student had something to share, he would grab the football. He grew to see people as trustworthy and dependable.

Going beyond child’s play: “Play therapy has so much value and so much weight when you tap into that inner child who is longing to be heard and acknowledged,” LaTisha says. “Play therapy is a proven cognitive behavior way to work through trauma, grief, loss, anxiety, depression, and can have real power in gaining ground with teens.”