Play therapy can be effective in children as young as 2 or 3 (and can also be effectively used with teens and adults!). Many people are unaware that counseling for preschoolers can be extremely beneficial! Children who experience a traumatic event at a very young age may not remember the event specifically, but they will remember a time when they felt unsafe, that something was very wrong, and they probably don't know how to express those feelings. Children may also struggle with their parents' divorce, a death of someone close to them (even the death of a pet), have behavioral problems in school or may experience bullying. And many of these happen before the age of 5!
I am a Registered Play Therapist (that's what the RPT means after my name), as approved by the Association for Play Therapy. Most of my play therapy sessions are 45 minutes long. I find that 45 minutes is long enough for most children, and that they somewhat reach their threshold at that length of time. Children also may need a little more time to transition out of the play therapy room (and to pick their prize!) or to check-out with their adult, so it gives a little bit of a buffer that allows me to not feel like I'm pushing them out the door to make it to my next session on time! Family therapy is often scheduled as part of the overall treatment plan, and these sessions are often more beneficial with a 90 minute session. We will discuss which length of session will work best for your child at our first session, which is only with the adults caring for the child. This gives you an opportunity to openly discuss your own situation and why you're seeking therapy for your child without editing what is being heard by little ears. A typical play therapy session will start with a brief (less than 5 minute) check in with the adult(s) and child to discuss anything, positive or negative, that may have come up that week. Then the adult will step out and the play therapy session itself will occur. Near the end of the session, the child is given a choice to do another brief check-out with the adult or to simply leave the session.
Play Therapy is a structured, theoretically based approach to therapy that builds on normal communicative and learning process of children (Carmichael, 2006; Landreth, 2002; O'Connor & Schaefer, 1983). Therapists strategically utilize play therapy to help children express what is troubling them when verbal language to express their thoughts and feelings fails (Gil, 1991). Toys work like the child's words and play is the child's language (Landreth, 2002). Through play, therapists help children learn adaptive behaviors (Pedro-Carroll & Reddy, 2005). A positive relationship develops between therapists and children. This provides a corrective emotional experience necessary for healing (Moustakas, 1997). Play therapy can promote cognitive development, provide insight, and help resolve inner conflicts or dysfunctional thinking (O'Connor & Schaefer, 1983; Reddy, Files-Hall & Schaefer, 2005).
FromThe Association of Play Therapy