How does Play Therapy Work with Teens and Tweens?

By Alexandra Papa, MA, LPC


“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than a year of conversation.” – Plato

Play is the primary language of children. When most people think of play therapy, they think of small children but this is not the case. Play therapy can be used with very young children all the way up to adults. Our teens are not yet adults but are no longer young children either– they are somewhere in-between. When it comes to therapy, there are many types and kinds but the most common is talk therapy. Talk therapy is where a client comes into a room to work with a therapist on current issues and they discuss goals and plans to overcome those problems. Many of our tweens and teens are going through so many changes already in their brains and with their hormones it can sometimes be difficult to just sit in a room and expect to talk. Talk therapy can be very threatening and intimidating, boring or too intrusive to many people, including teens. If they feel awkward talking about their concerns, engaging them in an activity allows the teen to relax and share their thoughts and feelings while doing something. In the play activity, the therapist can see clues or indications about concerns that the youth may not be able to express. In play therapy the play begins to focus on emotional healing.

“Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.” –Kay Redfield Jamison

Byron and Carol Norton explain play therapy as “the process where children create play that resembles the emotional experiences they are struggling with internally. These experiences usually cannot be expressed verbally. Children will select special toys to include in their play and use those toys to recreate issues that represent emotional conflicts that are important to the child. Beginning with this expression, the child’s play evolves until the child gains a sense of understanding and comfort over this situation. Research supports the effectiveness of play therapy with children experiencing: PTSD, behavioral issues, depression, impulsivity, self-esteem issues, academic difficulties, parent-child relationship struggles, social issues, anxiety, loss, divorce/separation, abuse and more…” (2012).

Play therapy sessions draw from a teen’s strengths and find creative interventions to help teens understand their thoughts and feelings. Some examples of play therapy with teens are:

  • playing basketball or uno while talking about the day
  • playing candyland to explore and discuss feelings
  • drawing a picture to describe an event that happened like a bad dream
  • making a collage of your true self
  • sharing a song that communicates your feelings
  • writing a poem or letter
  • acting out how to solve a problem
  • make a model using clay

Play therapy is an effective tool to use to help adolescents discover more about themselves, manage emotions and conflicts and become more self-confident and mature. When engaging in play therapy with your therapist you are in a safe environment where it is okay to try on new hats, try new things and explore different solutions. Play therapy gives teen the opportunity to use their creativity and imagination. If you feel that play therapy might be the right fit for your teen please call Colorado Teen Therapy.

To learn more about Alexandra and her background, or to see if she might be a good fit to work with your teen, head over to our Meet Our Team page.


For more information on play therapy, here are some resources:


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