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Play therapy is a treatment modality used by specifically trained professionals with children

who suffer from emotional and behavioral difficulties, who are adjusting to new circumstances

or who are undergoing life-altering changes. Play therapy utilizes the child’s innate impulse to

play out their fears, worries, and conflicts and in fact their whole inner landscape. When

presented with a safe and therapeutic environment containing toys that invite the imagination,

most children will immediately begin to play. The trained play therapist can observe the play,

interpret its possible meanings, reflect the feelings expressed back to the child without

judgment and in this moment, both play therapist and child can communicate through the

metaphor the child’s inner truth. Children can then engage in a process or series of

appointments with the play therapist in which the conflicts are expressed and brought to

resolution through play. 

Play therapy has a long and proud tradition stemming from Sigmund Freud. He was the first

person to recommend using play and art to assist a five year old boy with his fears. His

student, Hermine Hug-Hellmuth, and later Anna Freud and Melanie Klein applied Freud’s

theories to their work with children through play. Since then, many other approaches to play

therapy have been developed.  

There are numerous types of play therapy from very structured and directive to

child-centered or child-directed. Play therapy is not in itself a theoretical base, but a modality

that can be applied to many different theoretical frameworks. There are cognitive-behavioral

play therapists, psychoanalytic play therapists, Adlerian play therapists and relationship-based

play therapists. The skilled play therapist can tailor the intervention to meet the needs of each

child. Play Therapy is the most developmentally appropriate modality for the young child with

emotional problems as it meets the child at the child’s level of communication: play. 

The play therapist needs to be trained in a mental health discipline, at least at the Master’s

degree level. Play therapy is used by many different kinds of child therapists from psychiatrists

to psychologists to social workers, marriage and family counselors, school counselors and

child psychiatric nurses. There are university-level play therapy trainings in the United States

and many workshops and conferences throughout the country.  Visit for a list of 

conferences and workshops.  Here in Hawaii, WE offer on-going trainings in play therapy

(see Upcoming Trainings).  


Therapists can fulfill the requirements to become a Registered Play Therapist or

Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor through the Association for Play Therapy. This

registration process indicates that the play therapist has a strong knowledge base

related to play therapy and has received extensive training and supervision in this

area. For a list of RPT’s or RPT-S’s in your area or to read the requirements for

registration, visit the A.P.T. website at Please visit our local


What is Sandplay Therapy? Sandplay therapy was created by Dora Kalff, a student of Carl

Jung's who attended the Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland  and collaborated with him.   She

was  encouraged  by him to study psychology and to work with children. 

In 1954, while still studying at the Jung Institute, Kalff attended a lecture by Dr. Margaret

Lowenfeld. Lowenfeld presented a lecture and slide show on her World Technique, in which

children at her clinic were invited to create their “worlds” in a sand tray. Dora Kalff was quite

impressed with this presentation and discussed it with Dr. Jung. He also remembered seeing

Dr. Lowenfeld present at a Paris conference in 1937. He encouraged Kalff to pursue studies

with Lowenfeld. In 1956, Kalff moved to London and studied with Lowenfeld at her clinic for

one year. She returned to Switzerland and over the next several years integrated her

understanding of Jungian theory with the Lowenfeld technique and her long-standing study of

Tibetan Buddhism. In 1966 she finally published her book Sandspiel in German or Sandplay in

English. Today Sandplay Therapy is practiced the world over by clinicians of varying disciplines:

psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and psychiatric nurses. It requires learning a unique

body of knowledge and applying it to work with adults and children. The client is invited to

create a scene in a tray of sand. The client creates a Sandplay in the outer world which reflects

the situation of his or her inner world. In this way, the inner and outer worlds are bridged.

Creating a series of Sandplays over time facilitates the integration of the personality and heals

past trauma.  The presence of a trained Sandplay therapist promotes this psychological healing.

Training leading to becoming certified as a Sandplay therapist is available throughout the U.S.,

Europe and Japan. Visit

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