Passionate about Play Therapy

by Andrea Kunwald LMFT

“How would you like to work with a five-year-old boy?” I froze as my supervisor asked me this question. My heart leaped into my throat and I was hoping she would not notice the nervous crackling in my voice when I answered, “I would love to.” This was the third client referral during my first week of my internship, and the age of the clients had gotten younger and younger, accompanied by diagnoses that ranged from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), to Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD). My focus in graduate school had been in marriage and family theory with the ultimate goal of providing therapy for adults, couples, and whole families. I did not have the faintest idea how to interact with a five-year-old child, let alone utilizing a theory or therapeutic interventions specifically designed for young children. How do you talk to a five-year-old child who has a diagnosis like that, and is described as a defiant little person? I was terrified. The only resource I had been given and held onto was a book called Dibs: In Search of Self by Virginia M. Axline (1985). I devoured this small book and it quickly became my bible and theoretical guide in providing therapy to children.


This was five years ago, and my fear has turned into an absolute passion. Hence, I am in the process of being certified as a Registered Play Therapist, and I am on the board of the Washington Association for Play Therapy as the President Elect.


So, what is Play Therapy?

Play Therapy is an umbrella term which embraces a broad range of different theories that provide a theoretical basis for therapy with children. These orientations are classified as directive and non-directive orientations. Personally, I have chosen to study Client Centered Play Therapy (CCPT) and Jungian Analytic Play Therapy (JAPT) because both theories are non-directive and represent the lenses through which I view my clients.


How is play effective?

Developmental, young children do not use words to communicate how they feel or what they think. They will show it through behaviors and through their choice of play. In play therapy, toys are like the child’s words and play is the child’s language (Landreth, 2002). The toys in my room may look ordinary, but they have been purposefully selected from specific categories to engender the healing process in the child.


What’s my role?

My role as the therapist is to nurture a relationship that is built on unconditional positive regard and that provides children with a permissive environment to unfold and expand. This means to be nonjudgmental and fully accepting of the child while completely trusting that he/she has an inner knowing how to to lead them through their unique healing process. Overall, the goal of therapeutic play is to reduce stress, encourage exploration and an understanding of self, and to gain confidence in making choices (Landreth, 2002). What fuels my passion time and time again is the magic that happens in the non-judgmental environment, because it provides an atmosphere in which the child’s issues can emerge from within during natural play.


If you would like to know more about therapeutic play and the therapy process, please go here:


If you have questions or comments, please contact:

Andrea Kunwald, MA, LMFT

Envision Counseling, LLC

Phone (206)-858-1177 ext 136