In honor of Play Therapy Week, we sat down with Dr. Jaleesa Adams, a registered psychologist with the Outpatient program at The Guidance Center to learn more about this therapy model and why it’s an important tool in children’s mental health. Please read through our conversation below! 

What is Play Therapy? 

Play therapy is a type of therapy that takes advantage of a child’s innate ability to play. It helps children express their thoughts or feelings and aids in problem solving. Play therapy can look different depending on the therapist’s approach. Some therapists prefer to take a very non-directive approach in which they follow their clients lead during the session.

When using this approach, the therapist does not put any ideas into the child’s head about what the play should look like, but keeps it completely client centered. The idea behind this technique comes from knowing that a child communicates through their play behaviors, because after all, play is the language of children. Also, non-directive play includes the therapist making interpretations about conflicts and feelings that may come up in the play, often validating and putting words to experiences.

On the other hand, some therapists have a directive approach in which they have use specific interventions/games they want their client or family to participate in to try and resolve a specific issue.

Why is Play important for children? 

Play is important because it contributes to a child’s development in many different ways. Play improves gross/fine motor skills, encourages creativity, improves communication and social skills and increases self-esteem. Because play contributes so much to development, when a child has not had the opportunity to engage, this understimulation can lead to difficulties with mental, physical and social health. At such a young age, children often lack communication skills to express their emotions clearly, so play acts as a bridge of understanding. 

How does Play Therapy help a child’s mental health? 

Play Therapy helps children build emotion regulating skills to address the effects of trauma or loss, to aid in reducing anxiety and depression, to improve behavior and to help them manage social difficulties. It can also reveal internal conflicts, uncover negative communication patterns within families and help children and families find new problem-solving skills.

Can parents/caregivers practice Play Therapy on their own with their child?   

Parents should absolutely PLAY with their children and this is highly encouraged. Through play is how children learn. Learning starts with parents engaging by playing with and responding to their child. *However, practicing a play therapy model should be done with a trained professional.

Why/How should we recognize Play Therapy this week? 

By playing, of course! Play is good for your soul; it’s powerful and healing. Even as adults, consider what hobbies you like doing during your free time, what games and activities you enjoy, and allow time to PLAY in your busy schedule.



Jaleesa Adams, PsyD, is a Clinical Therapist in The Guidance Center’s Long Beach Outpatient Program where she helps guide children and families struggling with mental health conditions or abuse toward positive and productive futures. She is especially passionate about helping children and their families navigate through some of their most difficult times, and helping her clients understand that they have choices in the present circumstances and in the outcome of their lives. Before joining The Guidance Center team as a pre-doctoral intern in 2017, Adams worked as a psychology practicum trainee in primarily the school-based setting. Adams earned a Doctorate Degree in Psychology at The Wright institute in Berkeley, CA.