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Counseling children requires that counselors go beyond the familiar adult counseling framework and into the world of a child. Nothing less will do than a total shift from the old paradigm of merely adapting basic adult counseling skills in counseling children to the new paradigm of Play Therapy which has been developed specifically for counseling with children. The new paradigm of Play Therapy allows counselors to communicate effectively with children through their natural language of play.
Modifying basic adult counseling skills to work with children requires that the child adopt the communication style that is most comfortable for the adult. To make emotional contact with children, utilization of a method of communication that meets the needs of children is necessary. Play comes naturally to children and without effort the child is capable of reasonably expressing feelings, thoughts, and concerns by the manipulation of toys and materials (AxIlne, 1947; Bettelheim, 1987; Ginott, 1961; Landreth, 1991).
Play media materials invite the child’s paiticipation and establish a natural means of communication which does not require verbal Interaction. The play of the child becomes the medium of exchange and is utilized by the counselor not only to understand the child but also to build a therapeutic relationship. (Landreth, 1983, p. 202)
Play is much more than simply a procedure to help children get ready to do something more important, such as talk. Play is a medium through which children are able to communicate fully and explore their experiences, their reactions to those experiences, and what they want or need in their lives.
The utilization of play as a communication tool enables a child to transcend the restrictions presented by his or her inability to understand or articulate abstract thoughts. According to Piaget (1962), play bridges the gap between concrete experience and abstract thought He also suggested that feelings are inaccessible at a verbal level until the child is approximately 11 years of age. Therefore, play provides the child with the opportunity to express inner desires, feelings, problems, and anxieties. Play is described by Froebel (1903) as "the highest development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in the child’s soul... Children’s play is not mere sport. It is full of meaning and import" (p. 22).
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