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Play Therapy

When you see your child playing, you see them shine. 

When you see them playing, they are in their own world and often oblivious to what is going on around them. Their imagination runs wild and their creativity is at the forefront.

But it’s hard for them to express themselves with words. As their parent, this leaves you wondering if there’s a problem. Maybe they are really shy in pre-school or around other kids?   Maybe they get really anxious at birthday parties when they should be having fun or seem stressed about something new? Perhaps you’re seeing aggression in their interactions with others or they’ve experienced a traumatic experience or a significant family change?

You’re wondering if what they are experiencing is “typical” or not and if something is holding them back.

The reality is that “typical” for every kid is different, especially in their personalities and development. As a parent or care-giver, this makes sense to some extent, but you also are concerned that maybe some of the actions and behaviors you are seeing could be a sign of something more serious. You worry about the future – could this turn into something more serious that could have been helped with earlier intervention?

Mother and young child with behavior problems due to anxiety and trauma starting counseling at VCC in Mechanicsburg, PA

This is where VCC therapists can help.

They are specially trained in play and child therapy, and incorporate knowledge of child development into their therapeutic work.  Our therapists have years of education, training, and experience in working with a diverse group of kids that enables them to understand the issues your child is facing. 

They are here to observe and help children process and work through issues through play.  Our therapists are focused on incorporating child-led sessions with parent involvement in order to move toward the best outcome.  They’re here to listen to your concerns and work with you, the parent, to find out if your child’s behaviors are “typical” or if there is a more deep-rooted issue.

What is Play Therapy, really?

Child with trouble adjusting in play therapy session to help anxiety and social skills in central Pennsylvania

Play therapy is a specialized treatment for children ages 3 and up. It is especially effective for those children who are not able to participate in traditional talk therapy due to their age and developmental level. Each therapy room is equipped with specially identified toys, such as puppets, dolls/figures/house, sand tray tables, sensory materials, games, art materials, books, or building materials. 

Play therapy can take shape in 2 ways:

  • Non-directive: In this setting, the therapist follows the child’s lead, letting the child naturally gravitate towards the different toys or materials that interest them. As the child starts playing, the therapist can observe and interact as the issues surface during play. 
  • Directive: Here the therapist may introduce specific interventions with activities designed to help the child express their issues through play.

A child’s most natural learning environment is play. By giving them an opportunity to explore and discover in a neutral setting with a trained therapist, they can process and work through difficult situations or stressors that they may not be able to outside of a therapy session. 

Common Issues Where Play Therapy Helps:

Children are constantly changing as they grow and develop. What makes them happy today could frustrate them tomorrow. Some of the reasons that parents bring their child for play therapy include: 

  • Anxiety: Anytime your child seems overly nervous where it stops them from being themselves. This could be induced from starting school to social situations around other kids. 
  • Your child has been through a scary or traumatic situation.
  • Recent Transitions: Maybe you’ve recently moved, your family has a new baby taking away attention, or your family situation has changed. Perhaps your child is transitioning to preschool or school for the first time.
  • Perhaps you are seeing some behavioral concerns, such as aggression or tantrums.
  • Your child has recently had a friend that moved away or had a family member or pet that passed away.

When you bring your child for play therapy at VCC, they will experience therapy that is personalized for each child and developmentally appropriate for their age. They will:

  • Use their imagination through play to explore situations they encounter in everyday life.
  • Process or explore situations or themes through play.
  • Experience social and emotional learning (SEL) to identify their emotions and link the reasons or common situations for these emotions.
  • Learn how to communicate with others, express feelings, develop problem-solving skills and how to relate to others.
  • Learn strategies in their play therapy sessions that can expanded to other settings, such as home or school.
  • Develop self-regulation skills, which is their ability to calm themselves or re-focus when they get distracted.
  • Be empowered to better manage their feelings and behaviors in their developing lives.

The therapeutic process is intended to help your child identify their emotions, understand their feelings, and see the consequences of behaviors arising from these feelings. Our approach is one that is a strength-based which views each child and family as a true partner in the process. We strive to make parents and caregivers an active part of play therapy, and can offer parent-only sessions as well. Our therapists can help you to better understand some things to watch for with your child and provide some strategies to help your child when they find themselves in situations that trigger their emotions.  

We work with children of all ages every day so there is very little that will surprise us. Our therapists are not here to judge your child or your parenting. We’re here to help your child work through their issues so they can be a fun, loving kid that is happy and healthy. 

What to Expect in Play Therapy

Therapy starts with an intake appointment, when you and your child meet with the therapist to understand the counseling relationship. We’ll gather details about your child’s psychological and social background and the concerns that have brought you in for therapy. We’ll also focus on answering questions that you have and helping you and your child feel comfortable. We can talk about goals you have and what you and your child would like to achieve during this process.

The second session begins the therapeutic process. Sessions are typically weekly and last for approximately one hour. During the early sessions, our therapists will work with your child through play to develop a connection and better get to know them. Once a level of trust has been built, your child will become more comfortable in session and begin to express their thoughts and feelings through play. Our skilled therapists work to quickly gain this trust and see your child’s interactions and behaviors to begin getting to the root of any issues they face. Here your therapist will use various techniques/strategies to work towards helping your child or family become healthier and happier.  

As the therapeutic process progresses, sessions may reduce in frequency as changes are made and goals are achieved.  This process can differ from family to family, and we strive to tailor each experience to each individual client, with collaboration between the therapist and family.  Discharge from therapy can occur when you and your child are comfortable and secure that skills and strategies learned can be used outside of session successfully. 

Your Next Steps

Healthy, playful, and well-adjusted kid with improved mental health after therapy with Valley Counseling Center in Mechanicsburg, PA

You want your child to be healthy and happy. You don’t want to worry if there is an underlying issue that’s causing them to not be themselves. Let our specialized therapists take that worry away. Your child can have a bright future. VCC is here to help. 

Contact us at 717-790-1700,, or click the button below to schedule a therapy session for your child today.

Request an Appointment


1215 Manor Drive Suite 209
Mechanicsburg, PA 17055

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