What are the Therapeutic Powers of Play in Play Therapy

What better way to celebrate International Play Therapy Week than by diving into what sets play therapy apart from other expressive arts modalities? Today, we're talking about the therapeutic powers of play. Understanding these powers is crucial, especially if you need to explain play therapy's benefits to others.

As a child and adolescent therapist, you might often find yourself in situations where you need to explain what play therapy is. Over the years, through my Play Therapy Academy and numerous consultations, I've seen how common it is for therapists, especially those new to the field, to struggle with this.

Many therapists grapple with imposter syndrome, not entirely sure what the therapeutic powers of play are or how to articulate them. But once you grasp these concepts, you'll feel more confident in your practice and better equipped to explain to parents and other professionals why play therapy is more than just playing.

Defining the Therapeutic Powers of Play

The therapeutic powers of play refer to the specific change agents in which play initiates, facilitates, or strengthens their therapeutic effect. These powers act as mediators that positively influence the desired change in the client. Essentially, play itself helps produce change, making it integral to therapy, not just a medium for other therapeutic techniques.

The Role of Play Therapy

Back in the late 1980s, when I first encountered play therapy as a special education teacher, I saw its transformative power firsthand. Through engaging in play, children in my classroom could express and work through internal conflicts, leading to noticeable improvements in their behavior and relationships.

This experience made me realize the profound impact of play therapy, prompting me to pursue a career in this field. Understanding the therapeutic powers of play and how they facilitate change is what sets play therapy apart from merely using games and toys to help children talk.

The Therapeutic Powers of Play: Categories

Dr. Charles Schaefer and Dr. Athena Drewes, in their seminal work, categorized the therapeutic powers of play into four main areas:

  1. Facilitates Communication
  2. Fosters Emotional Wellness
  3. Enhances Social Relationships
  4. Increases Personal Powers

These categories encompass the 20 core therapeutic agents of change identified in play therapy, providing a framework for understanding how play therapy works.

The Importance of a Theoretical Model

Your play therapy theoretical model is crucial for accessing these therapeutic powers of play. The Association for Play Therapy defines play therapy as the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.

Applying Your Theoretical Model

Different theoretical models influence how you facilitate healing in the playroom. For instance, child-centered play therapy, which is my foundational model, will look different from Adlerian or Gestalt play therapy. Each model provides unique principles and techniques to help children access those therapeutic powers of play.

Tips for Explaining Play Therapy

To effectively explain play therapy to others, focus on these three components:

  1. The Systematic Use of a Theoretical Model: This dictates how you help children through all stages of the change process.
  2. Establishing an Interpersonal Process: The therapeutic relationship is crucial for balancing the theoretical model and facilitating healing.
  3. Utilizing the Therapeutic Powers of Play: Play is the vehicle for change, helping children address specific issues and achieve optimal growth.


Understanding and articulating the therapeutic powers of play is essential for any play therapist. It sets play therapy apart from other modalities and underscores its effectiveness in facilitating healing and growth in children.

If you're interested in learning more, check out my course, "Getting Grounded in Play Therapy Foundations." This self-paced, online course covers the basics of play therapy, theoretical models, therapeutic powers of play, and practical tips for setting up your playroom and communicating with parents.

Categories: : Play Therapy, Play Therapy Model, Podcast, Supervision