How Play Therapy Can Boost a Child’s Self Esteem

Do you feel your child can use a boost of self-esteem? If you answered, “yes” then play therapy could be just the thing to help your child increase their level of self-esteem. To help understand what type of impact a low level of self esteem can have on a child’s overall life and how play therapy can help boost a child’s level of self esteem, I have interviewed therapist Matthew Morrissey.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a licensed psychotherapist in full-time private practice in San Francisco, California. I work with children, teenagers, and adults who are dealing with such issues as depression, anxiety, grief, trauma, and relationship difficulties. I grew up as a pretty nerdy kid but then discovered skateboarding when I was 13. I was hooked and became obsessed with the sport for the next six years, becoming a sponsored amateur. Then in college I discovered a real love for philosophy and psychology. I ended up making the latter a profession and the former an abiding passion. I feel like I lead a pretty blessed life at the moment.”

What type of impact can a low level of self-esteem have on a child’s overall life?
“The impact can be extensive and should not be underestimated. Children with low self-esteem find it harder to develop close friendships. They tend to be shy and more isolated. Therefore they are at higher risk for being bullied. They are also more at risk for becoming depressed, and when this starts to occur the child may begin to develop sleep problems, have difficulty concentrating (and thus fall behind in school or act out in the classroom), and even develop physical ailments that are ways of communicating the distress. Furthermore, as the child is actively forming ideas about who she or he is as a person and what to expect from the environment, the child is at risk of developing skewed notions and expectations, and these can follow a child into adulthood.”

How can play therapy help boost a child’s self esteem?
“First, let me say a little about how play therapy works. In beginning a treatment relationship with a child, the therapist says something like this to him or her: “In my office, as you can see, there are lots of toys and things for playing. In playing here with me, I will start to understand who you are and what is most important to you.” The therapist then “gets out of the way” so to speak and lets the child run the show for the entire 50 minutes. The child may choose to play alone, in which case the therapist will make tactful, ongoing comments about the child’s play'”attempting as much as possible to enter the child’s world. Or the child may invite the therapist to assume a role in the play, in which case the therapist tries earnestly to become who the child needs at that moment.”

“A play therapy session is like administering a concentrated dose of relationship vitamins. The “vitamins” are the 100 percent uninterrupted attention of an adult, the lack of intrusion of the adult’s needs on the child’s play, and the delicate focus brought by the therapist onto the child’s feelings and conflicts as expressed in the play. Over time, the child absorbs these “vitamins.” The child is seen and heard by an adult in a way he or she probably did not imagine was even possible. This naturally raises self-esteem because the child gets consistent validation for many aspects of her or his self.”

What would a typical play therapy session be like for a child?
“Children are constantly looking for attention and recognition from adults. Yet it is all too easy for us adults to become consumed by the demands of our adult world. Therefore a play therapy session for children is like a special oasis in the week where very little demands are placed on them and where a kind of relaxation and exploration of self become possible. It is an artificial situation to be sure, but children drink it up like a glass of ice-cold lemonade on a hot summer day. They look forward to their visit with the therapist and they become upset when something interferes with the visit. Therapy is a time to get some extra-special recognition. Parents often report that their children’s mood improves markedly right after a play therapy session.”

What last advice would you like to leave for a parent who is considering play therapy to help boost their child’s self esteem?
“I would tell the parent(s) to find a therapist who she or he thinks will really connect with the child. I also would encourage the parent(s) to work closely with the therapist to identify ways the parent(s) can cement the gains made in the treatment.”

Thank you Matthew for doing the interview on how play therapy can boost a child’s self esteem. For more information on Matthew Morrissey or his work you can check out his on

Recommended Readings:
Art Therapy for Children
The Benefits of Clinical Hypnotherapy
Cognitive Behaviorial Therapy

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