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Elaine Hutchinson

Creative Art and Play Therapy

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Child dressed up as a superhero

Following on from my last article, this will explore a few more of the tools and techniques we use in therapy that often don’t feature as predominately as tools like sand, clay and drawing.

Ball Play

Playing ball games in therapy as a client is a great way of connecting with the therapist because the games are naturally co-operative and reciprocal, which helps build rapport in a relaxed and fun way.  They are a great activity early on in therapy because they are not too challenging on either a social or a skill level: eye contact is not needed, and balls can be thrown or rolled.  Ball games generally engage your whole body, so help with stress management, anger management and managing frustration for clients who need to ‘just move’.  As with many activities in therapy, they give the client a sense of both control and competence.

Blocks, Lego and Construction Play

As well as the obvious fun (and cathartic anger release) of building a tower and knocking it down, blocks, Lego and construction toys all help increase a client’s cognitive development and help them develop the executive brain function skills of planning ahead, problem-solving, resilience and adaptability when things don’t go to plan and anticipating the consequences of actions.  Studies also show that a client’s impulse control and frustration tolerance can also be improved through this kind of play.

Clients with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) are also often drawn to the system based nature of Lego.  In group therapy, Lego-based play has been shown to develop social skills for ASD clients.

Role Play, Masks and Costumes

Role play allows clients to try out different ways of ‘being’ through being someone or something else.  It helps clients to better understand others’ viewpoints, try out their ideas around power and control, develop their emotional intelligence and empathy for others and practice new positive ways of ‘being’ that they can then take into everyday life.

If a client has had negative experiences or experienced trauma, they can make sense of these experiences with some psychological distance from the real events and try out new ways of processing events.  They can also work with on-going issues such as learning to stand up to bullies by role playing in the therapy session.

Clients can develop their skills in many ways, including through role-reversal, costume and mask play, the use of puppets and soft toys. 

For clients who struggle to read or understand facial expressions and body language, this is a very helpful and age-appropriate technique to help them develop their understanding.

Costumes add another layer to the role play experience with clients able to explore self-expression, self-awareness, role-model identification (such as being a superhero) and empathy as well as having both mastery and control of the scenario.

Masks and mask-making are another way in which clients can both project how they wish to be seen and develop self-expression.  They can also be used by a client to explore their ‘possible selves’ and family roles.

Masks are very safe as there is a clear separation between the client and the mask which often provides much needed psychological distance for the client between themselves and characters/events.  There is also a collaborative and creative element to making the masks for the client.

Masks are particularly beneficial for clients who are struggling with their identity and can help them look at both the ‘outside mask’ they show others and the ‘inside mask’ which is their core self.  This idea of inside/outside is also extremely helpful for clients who are managing grief and hidden losses.


(Yet more ideas to follow next week!)

If you have any questions, please feel free to drop me an email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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