One usually thinks of play therapy as being only for children. Yet as you study play therapy it becomes apparent that play therapy is based in relationship. Relationship is built through communication. The type of communication children do is through their play. In other words, how they play with the dolls, the dialogs they make up, the situations they play, is how they work through the stresses, dysfunctions, and emotional disconnects.
So much of this type of communication is somatic, non-direct, and non-verbal. As children make up the rules to their games, create the dialogs with the dolls, and create scenarios with the toys, they are communicating the emotional content of their world. The therapeutic relationship comes about as the therapist engages in the play, on the same level as the child/person, and with unconditional acceptance, puts into words the unspoken emotions.
For adults, the toys are the daily interactions, scenarios, and rules they experience. The rules, such as what it means to be a “good person”, the dialogs with family, friends, and co-workers, and the scenarios that play out while going through daily life.
What the adult communicates non-verbally through seemingly mundane, every day events, is the emotional meaning they have attached to these events. This requires a type of listening that is not based in words, but is based in a heart-centered, mindfulness. The therapeutic aspect again becomes naming the emotions and helping the person find their personal coping strategies, and resilience patterns to live by.
As an adult comes to therapy and experiences being heard and listened to, the relationship establishes trust. This trust grows and deepens as the adult continues to feel heard, validated, and accepted unconditionally. Being in a trusting relationship that accepts unconditionally, allows the adult to process unfinished business from childhood and/or adult trauma, to alleviate the symptoms through finding their resilience patterns, and to learn to unconditionally accept themselves.