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February 19, 2014
by Shamrock Counselling, MA, RCC

Play Therapy Techniques – Some Quick & Useful Ideas

February 19, 2014 02:55 by Shamrock Counselling, MA, RCC

“Accept the children the way we accept trees—with gratitude, because they are a blessing—but do not have expectations or desires. You don’t expect trees to change, you love them as they are.” 
― Isabel Allende

From as far back as I can remember, I have always enjoyed working with children. Thus, when the time came for me to decide what clientele I wanted to work with in my counselling practice, the answer was easy and obvious. I enjoy working with children because I love their energy – it makes my work not feel like ‘work’. Not to say that I don’t enjoy working with adults and the older population, there is just something extra that I take from working with children and youth clientele. I also enjoy working with children because it allows me to be creative in the counselling room. Since it’s nearly impossible to get a 4 year old to sit still in a chair for an hour to do a traditional counselling session, I have found many diverse ways to communicate, understand, and build a therapeutic relationship with my younger clients. So far, I have utilized an array of drawing and sand-play activities. I am, by far, not an expert in the field of play therapy, but I did recently come across an article that brought my attention to some of the various, innovative activities that can be employed in play therapy.

Techniques for Play

In their article, ‘Fifteen Effective Play Therapy Techniques’, Hall, Kaduson & Schaefer (2002) present and describe 15 different techniques that are effective, enjoyable, inexpensive, and easy to implement. As a new counsellor working in a new private practice, I find that I already have enough things on my ‘to-do’ list, so having play therapy activities that are not difficult to prepare for and put into practice is very important to me. Included in the authors’ descriptions of each activity are the therapeutic rationale, materials needed, step-by-step implementation guide, and applications. The techniques are appropriate for children 4-12 years of age and cover an extensive array of play therapy approaches (e.g. art, fantasy, sensorimotor, and game play). The techniques presented in the article address several common presenting problems in children such as depression, anxiety, impulsivity, distractibility, and non-compliance.

Of the 15 different techniques presented in the article, I found 4 that were very appealing to me and I thought I would share these particular 4 techniques in the hopes that other counsellors would be inspired to utilize them in their own professional practice. However, a good magician never shows all her tricks at once, so stay tuned for the continuation of these techniques in Shamrock Counselling’s 2014 Theravive blog!

Let's Get Started

1. The Feeling Word Game

Therapeutic Rationale: Some children have difficulty verbalizing their feelings when directly questioned either because they do not connect with those feelings they find most threatening or they are guarded (Hall, Kaduson, & Schaefer; 2002). By engaging in a game, the child’s defenses are reduced, and they are more likely to talk about the feelings they are experiencing or have experienced.


  • Materials needed: Eight 4x6-inch pieces of paper, a marker, and a tin filled with poker chips.

The therapist sits at the same level of the child (i.e. both on the floor) and introduces the activity to the child by saying, “We are going to play a game called the Feeling Word Game. First, I want you to tell me the names of some feelings that a boy or girl who is [age of the child] year old has.” The therapist writes each of the child’s feeling words on a separate piece of paper. If the child cannot read, the therapist should also draw a face representing the feeling. If the child does not provide the names of all the feelings required to explore the presenting problem, the therapist can suggest it. Once all the feelings are written down on individual strips of paper, the therapist lines them up in front of the child and says, “Here are all of the feeling words you came up with. I have in my hand a tin of ‘feelings’ [poker chips]. I am going to tell a story first, and then I will put down the feelings on these words.

The therapist tells a story about himself or herself, being sure to devise a story that includes both positive and negative feelings. At the completion of the story, the therapist puts poker chips on each appropriate feeling. The amount of each should vary, thereby showing the child that a person can have more than one feeling at the same time, as well as different amounts of each feeling. Next, the therapist tells a non-threatening story about the child, allowing for both positive and negative feelings. The child is given the tin of “feelings” and told to put down what he or she might feel under those circumstances. The child then tells the next story for the therapist to put down his or her feelings. This continues until the major issues of the presenting problem are discussed.

Applications: This game can be used with all children including those with conduct problems, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or anxiety problems. This game is a fun and non-threatening way for the therapist and child to discuss and question issues that may be too intimidating for the child to talk about directly.

By: Stephanie Ng, MCP, RCC

w: 604.853-7477   c: 778-288-2008

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Hall, T.  M., Kaduson, H.  G., & Schaefer, C.  E.  (2002). Fifteen Effective Play Therapy Techniques.  Professional Psychology, 33(6), 515-522.

About the Author

Shamrock Counselling Shamrock Counselling, MA, RCC, CBEIP, NAEFW

We believe the counselling should be an essential service and are committed to helping people find ways to access resources. We take the time to walk you through the process to find the best fit and suit your needs.

Shamrock Counselling can be found at
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