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Play therapy, also referred to as imaginative play therapy, is defined as the “systematic use of a theoretical model that establishes an interpersonal process, in which trained therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help children prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.” Although this therapeutic modality is traditionally associated with younger children, play therapy can be adapted to meet the developmental and emotional needs of teenagers. Empirical evidence supports the effectiveness of play therapy with teens experiencing a wide variety of social, emotional, behavioral, and learning problems, including teens whose problems are related to life stressors (e.g., divorce, death, relocation, hospitalization, chronic illness, assimilate stressful experiences, physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, natural disasters, etc.). Play therapy can be a valuable approach in the treatment of teen mental health issues.

Benefits of Play Therapy

Play therapy offers a creative outlet that merges imagination and reality in a way that allows a therapist to observe without intervening in freedom of expression. Play-based approaches to therapy can help teenagers heal in several ways, such as:

  • Encourages creativity and positive decision-making: Research has identified that an important benefit of play is “its enhancement of a [teen’s] capacity for cognitive flexibility and, ultimately, creativity.” Play therapy promotes creativity by providing a safe space for adolescents to have the autonomy to act out scenarios of their choosing and engage in symbolic play.
  • Boosts emotional awareness: The British Association of Play Therapists (BAPT) asserts that through play therapy teenagers can sort through complicated feelings and emotions without feeling interrogated or threatened by relying on play to communicate at their own level and at their own pace.
  • Promotes healthy social interaction: Through play therapy, teens learn to communicate with others, express feelings, modify behavior, develop problem-solving skills, and learn a variety of ways of relating to others.
  • Nurtures empathy: Through play, teenagers learn to follow norms and how to cultivate empathy and respect for the thoughts and feelings of others.
  • Strengthens self-esteem: Play-based approaches to therapy can help teenagers develop a sense of competence and mastery, which can boost their self-esteem. Through engaging in activities that are both enjoyable and challenging, teens build a sense of accomplishment and pride.

Play therapy can serve as a valuable tool in teen mental health treatment by providing a creative and developmentally appropriate way for adolescents to express themselves, process emotions, build resilience and coping skills, and develop a greater sense of self-awareness. It provides teens with the opportunity to express complex feelings and thoughts using a nonverbal and universal means of expression. When integrated into a broader treatment plan, it can contribute to improved mental health outcomes for teenagers.

For Information and Support 

Every family in need of mental health treatment must select a program that will best suit the needs of their family. When one member of a family struggles, it impacts everyone in the family unit. To maximize the benefits of treatment we work closely with the entire family to ensure that everyone is receiving the support they need through these difficult times.

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life, long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.


We are available to answer any questions you may have regarding mental health treatment and our residential program, anytime. Contact us today using the form to the right.

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