Often when thinking of play therapy, people mainly think of how it benefits children, but research shows that play therapy can be beneficial for adults too! We got the Garrett Counseling team together to discuss how we utilize play therapy with our adult clients. Below you’ll find our top 10 play therapy interventions for adults!
#10 – Role-Play
As you may know, many therapeutic approaches utilize role-play. These approaches include Psychodrama, Gestalt, and Adlerian. Role-playing allows both children and adults to get some distance between their stories and emotions. Supervisors even utilize psychodrama approaches to help counselors-in-training develop more insight into what their client may be experiencing. For adults trying to gain a better perspective in their relationships, role-playing can offer that. Role-reversal in role-playing can offer great insight into the dynamics of a relationship or harmful family patterns.
#9 – Play In Nature
Playing in nature provides an opportunity to practice mindfulness. This technique helps bring the client back to the here and now. Exploring the quiet in nature helps bring stillness into other spaces, such as work, class, and home. You don’t need to have a full acre nature garden to bring nature into the therapeutic relationship, though if you do have one – like our therapy garden – it is a great tool to use. According to Maegen Harris, M.Ed, ALC, “Playing in nature encourages regulation, providing clients with tools on how to self-regulate when feeling overwhelmed with life’s daily anxieties and stressors.” There are several ways to incorporate play in nature, including creating a sandtray using nature’s multi-sensory items to engage in therapeutic storytelling. Discover Wildlife wrote a great article that shares more on the benefits of nature for mental health, you can find it here.
#8 – Dixit Cards
Ginger Caudell, LPC highly recommends Dixit Cards. These cards are an activity where the client identifies conflict and creates solutions to resolve the issues presented. First, you have the client select 8 cards from the Family or Adult Card Edition. Then, have the cards placed face down on a flat surface. Next, set the scene with the client by explaining the cards they are about to see will depict troubles that occur in family, friend, or work groups (wherever most of the difficulties occur with the client in their life). Now, intrust the client to turn over a card and immediately state the conflict they see. Repeat this for each card, then return to the first card and begin the collaborative process of identifying the client’s role in the difficulties and any changes or solutions that might improve the outcome. At any point the client is encouraged if they recognize where the solution creation also relates to problems in areas of their life so connection can be made and insight strengthened.
#7 – Board Games
Why are board games great to use with adults in therapy? According to Registered Play Therapist Supervisor, Dr. Ashley Garrett, “Games require things that many adults can benefit from such as positive social interaction, rule following, and navigating the experience of winning and losing. Within those skills comes negotiation and collaboration while using emotional control, intelligence, and social skills.” Combining those skills while processing some difficult topics allows a client to learn to stay in touch with their bodies while also utilizing those social skills. This can give adult clients a sense of success in the safety of the therapeutic relationship.
Many adults come to therapy with challenges related to communication with the others involved in their social system. Beneficial tools Jessica Mentzer, ALC has come to utilize in her sessions are Charades and Pictionary, because both help with increasing transactional communication intelligence which can be missed if someone is not aware of the things to look for. Individuals also capitalize on increasing effective communication because they may learn that what makes sense to them may not make sense to someone they do not know well which in turn creates alternative communication patterns that may benefit them when working with others in their lives they may be challenged by. Counselor Mentzer shares “Not only do Charades and Pictionary help with communication, but also with self-confidence and self-expression. When we are unable to effectively express ourselves we are often unsatisfied.”
A great resource for utilizing board games in therapy is Therapy Games: Creative Ways to Turn Popular Games Into Activities That Build Self-Esteem, Teamwork, Communication Skills, Anger Management, Self-Discovery, and Coping Skills by Alanna Jones.
#6 – Improv
Improvisational games provide an opportunity for adults to practice being comfortable with spontaneity and having to think on their feet. Improv can help adults face fears of uncertainty, improve social interaction, stretch their brain, and develop creativity. Some of the core principles of improv are beneficial to play therapy for adults: (1) “Yes and”, which encourages clients to opt-in to life and explore how contradicting things can be true, and (2) “I’ve got your back”, which gives adults the comfort in knowing that their therapist is there for them no matter what they bring to therapy. On top of all these things, improv is a great way to both grow and celebrate silliness. Ben Lighter, MA, ALC says, “As a veteran of improv, I am grateful to see it used in such a therapeutically beneficial way. Laughter can be so healing and improv, when used strategically, can go a long way towards client wellbeing.” Counseling Today has a great article that explores this topic; you can find the article here.
#5 – Expressive Arts
“Drawing, painting, creating, sculpting – all of these allow us the space to get what’s inside out of us. You can draw how you’re feeling, you can sculpt something with no intentions and let what comes out flow, you can paint mindfully. Art is a really fun way to blow off steam,” says Jessica Bearden, LPC. For those interested in learning more about expressive art techniques, we highly recommend Handbook of Expressive Arts Therapy by Dr. Cathy A. Malchiodi; it is the most comprehensive resource available to mental health professionals.
#4 – Brave Play Kits
Lynsey Leopard, EdS, LPC, NCC says, “Describing your personal and interpersonal history can be tricky and very fact-based. By incorporating the Brave Play Kit, adults can assign value and meaning to atoms to identify the emotional factors rooted in major (and seemingly minor) life events. The atoms allow you to freely explore moments, memories, and themes that influence your sense of self.” If you are interested in learning more about Brave Play Kits, visit this link.
#3 – Art Therapy
According to Rachel Brewer, MS, ALC, “Art therapy techniques are some of my favorite ways to teach families how to cope using creativity. I often come to be known by families I work with as ‘the art lady’ because I almost always try to incorporate some form of creative self-expression into my work with clients.” Art therapy provides children and adults who are without the vocabulary to express their inner feelings a way to emote. Artistic journaling, collage, and crafting – are just a few examples of ways that art therapy techniques and interventions can be used to provide clients with the opportunity to relay a message, explore choices, or to simply set down their own emotional burdens. Contrary to popular belief, a person does not need to be artistically talented or even truly interested in the arts, to benefit from art therapy practices. Laura Dessaur, Ed.D, ATR-BC, authored the, Art Therapy Card Deck for Children and Adolescents: 50 Therapeutic Interventions for Challenging Clients Who Shut Down, Meltdown, or Act Out – a therapeutic tool formed in a card deck, with various directives on each card (it even includes prompts for exploration and what materials you’ll need). Whether you are a seasoned professional, a teacher, a parent, or a fellow creative person, this deck is for anyone looking for an ‘artsy’ way to externalize their emotions.
#2 – Integrated Elderly Play Therapy (IEPT)
IEPT has been shown to improve self-esteem, social functioning, and engagement (Ledyard, 1999). “Simple games such as finger yoga exercises, traditional storytelling, and repetitive music themes to increase cognitive memory and a variety of experience arts projects to help with mental recovery, expression of happiness, and achievement” (Hamilton, C.Y., December, 2022).
#1 – Animal Cards
Animal Cards, specifically Messages from Your Animal Spirit Guides Oracle Cards are one of our most used tools in play therapy for adults. We have utilized these cards in individual, couples, and family sessions. We also use these in ongoing clinical supervision. One of our favorite activities is to use these cards to create a genogram of the patient’s family and extended family (or support system). We can explore how different characteristics impact family dynamics, multigenerational trauma, and many other treatment concerns.
Interested In Play Therapy?
Our hope is that we were able to share tools to help fellow mental health professionals utilize play therapy for adults. If you are interested in more information about play therapy, we encourage you to take a look at our upcoming continuing education opportunities. If you are looking for supervision or internship opportunities, you can learn more about openings at Garrett Counseling by clicking here.