Play Therapy is a therapeutic approach used primarily for children and adolescents in which treatment is established through the use of symbolic play, art, and directive activities as an alternative (or complement) to standard talk therapy. In the world of Child Centered Play Therapy (CCPT), play is the language of the child, and toys are their words.
Play therapists are trained to understand play as communication and to engage with children accordingly. The child in the playroom is free to explore their feelings, thoughts, and fears in a space of full acceptance and without judgment. This allows the child to process emotions as their own, taking responsibility for them, and gaining autonomy to choose for themselves a path forward. Garry Landreth, who helped develop CCPT, believes that "a child will not change until the child is free not to change." What does this mean? Until the child feels safe in our relationship with them and accepted as they are, they may not feel free (or safe) enough to be any different.
Why use play? Play provides symbols and actions when words fail us. In children's brains, logic and language are not as fully developed as emotions. This can sometimes be problematic: children are human beings who are fully capable of experiencing a wide range of emotions but lack the ability to regulate and "think through" what they're feeling.
What does play do for the brain? Play allows us to remain in a "safe zone" where we are engaged, ready to learn, connected with one another, and open to emotions. It allows for an exchange of energy and for "yucky" or scary feelings to not feel so bad. In play, children face their biggest fears, their saddest moments, their scariest thoughts, but they do so through laughter, movement, externalization (it's the doll who is going through this, not me), and always with a safe partner in tow.