Stony Brook Medicine Health News

The Benefits of Therapeutic Play for Pediatric Patients 

Therapeutic play involves purposeful activities tailored to meet the needs of children

Whether it’s getting creative with arts or playing organized games, therapeutic play gives children ways to share, understand, and handle their feelings while in a hospital or medical setting. It’s an essential part of pediatric care, giving them tools to deal with their medical challenges while letting kids be kids. 

What is Therapeutic Play?

Therapeutic play involves purposeful activities tailored to meet the emotional and psychological needs of children grappling with illness. 

From engaging in creative arts to participating in structured games, therapeutic play provides a focused outlet for children to express, understand, and navigate their emotions within the healthcare setting. It’s a vital component of care that empowers young patients, offering them a means to cope and promoting healing in a compassionate environment.

Benefits of Therapeutic Play for Pediatric Patients

There are several advantages of therapeutic play for children in hospitals or medical environments, including the following:

  • Reduced Anxiety: Therapeutic play helps to minimize overall stress and anxiety, and lessens the emotional impact of illness and hospitalization. 
  • Emotional Expression: It provides a structured outlet for children to express and understand their emotions during challenging times.
  • Enhanced Coping Skills: Through activities like games and art, kids develop valuable coping mechanisms to navigate their healthcare journey.
  • Fostering Normalcy: Therapeutic play offers a sense of normalcy, allowing children to engage in typical childhood activities and experiences despite their medical circumstances.
  • Social Interaction: It encourages interactions with peers and caregivers, contributing to emotional well-being and a supportive environment.
  • Empowerment: By actively participating in their care through play, children feel a sense of control, fostering empowerment and resilience.

Types of Therapeutic Play 

Therapeutic play specialists and volunteers provide a variety of activities to patients, including age-appropriate toys and games, arts and crafts, movies, and music in designated activity areas and at patient bedsides. 

Each type of therapeutic play offers a unique approach to supporting children’s emotional and psychological well-being in the hospital setting.

  1. Art Therapy: Engaging in creative activities such as drawing, painting, and crafting.
  1. Music Therapy: Using music and rhythm to promote emotional expression and relaxation.
  1. Medical Play: Using real or toy medical equipment in a play and teaching session to familiarize children with hospital tools and procedures.
  1. Storytelling Therapy: Using special therapeutic stories to help children express and understand their experiences.
  1. Drama and Role-Playing: Allowing children to pretend to be doctors and nurses, and to act out scenarios that explore emotions and help cope with challenges.
  1. Animal-Assisted Therapy: Involving trained animals to provide comfort, companionship, and emotional support.
  1. Movement Therapy: Incorporating dance or other movement activities to enhance emotional and physical well-being.
  1. Sensory Play: Engaging in activities that connect to nature and stimulate the senses, such as textured materials or horticulture therapy. 
  1. Therapeutic Games: Utilizing specially designed games to address specific therapeutic goals.

Who Practices Therapeutic Play?

Therapeutic play is practiced by a range of professionals dedicated to the well-being of pediatric patients. 

Child life specialists who are trained in psychology and child development play a crucial role. They work alongside creative arts therapists who are also trained to use expressive tools for emotional healing. Additionally, occupational therapists incorporate therapeutic play into their sessions, focusing on enhancing children’s functional abilities. Horticulture therapists use living plants to provide a healing exposure to the natural world. Volunteers help with simple play such as games and crafts. 

Collaboratively, these practitioners and their helpers create a comprehensive approach, ensuring that therapeutic play becomes an integral part of pediatric healthcare and aiding the healing process.

The Child Life Program at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital offers an opportunity for children to engage in everyday childhood activities to help minimize anxiety and promote mastery. Certified Child Life Specialists are trained in child development and are equipped to deal with the effects of hospitalization on children. They work closely with the healthcare team to assess and address the individual needs of young patients and their families wherever children are served in the hospital. 

  • Joan Alpers

    Joan Alpers specializes in child life and art therapy. She has more than 30 years of experience in making children’s hospital visits more comfortable, anxiety-free and, in many cases, fun. By incorporating medical play, which lets children use real or toy medical equipment, Joan helps prepare children for their medical treatment. She is a former president of Child Life of Greater NY.

This article is intended to be general and/or educational in nature. Always consult your healthcare professional for help, diagnosis, guidance and treatment.