Health & Fitness Kids Medical Parenting

Would your child benefit from play therapy?

Do you have a child who is struggling with their behaviour? We sat down with Jenny Chan, accredited play therapist at Hong Kong Adventist Hospital, to learn about play therapy, which is a unique approach that can help children overcome a variety of emotional problems.

What is play therapy?

It’s a form of child-centred therapy where children are encouraged to explore and communicate repressed emotions through play in a safe environment. Play therapy is generally suitable for children with emotional, behavioural or interpersonal relationship problems, and therapists will set tailor-made goals for each individual child. The main goal is to help children foster the ability to manage their own emotions or behaviours, build self-confidence and ultimately learn how to solve problems. Benefits include improved learning ability, enhanced imagination and creativity, and improved self-confidence and concentration.

Play therapy Jenny Chan
Play therapist Jenny Chan

How long have you been a play therapist with Adventist?

I’ve been providing psychotherapy for adults for over ten years, and play therapy for children for the last five. I saw a significant need for maintaining the mental health of children in Hong Kong. In the past, I’ve also had experience as a registered nurse and kindergarten principal, and I deeply believe that mental health needs to be built on from early childhood, especially from ages three to five years. So, I concentrate my work on parental education and therapy for children, and I provide talks and workshops for parents and teachers in schools, companies and libraries, and write columns in newspapers to promote healthy family relationships.

How does play therapy work?

Children’s negative emotions hinder their learning ability and potential development. Many problems  experienced by children are associated with life stressors, like divorce, death of a family member or friend, long-term illness or frequent hospitalisation, and disharmony among siblings. Play therapy is generally suitable for ages three to 16 years. It targets emotional problems that affect learning and impact on family relationships – things like tension and anxiety, anger and irritability, lack of self-confidence, withdrawal, lack of motivation, as well as their corresponding behavioural symptoms: finger biting, daytime wetting, refusing to go to school, rule breaking, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, and so on. Various childhood mental disorders including hyperactivity, autism, depression, tic disorders and psychosomatic disorders can also be targeted.

What does a typical session involve?

Therapists use an SDQ (“Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire”) to assess the child in a number of areas, looking at emotional symptoms, conduct problems, hyperactivity/ inattention, peer relationships and pro-social behaviours. Through the use of toys and games, there are several methods of play – from storytelling, puppets and drama to music, dance and painting – that are employed to treat emotional problems experienced by children. Each type of play encourages specific skills and development. Children undergoing play therapy are often told that this is a weekly session of “special time”. Each session is about 35 to 45 minutes, subject to the child’s condition. Studies show significant improvement in most children after 12 sessions of play therapy. Should parents feel the need, an additional six sessions may be added to strengthen and bolster the overall effects of the treatment.

How can I make an appointment with a play therapist at Adventist?

You can call the hospital directly, or approach your family doctor, GP or paediatrician for a referral.

Hong Kong Adventist Hospital is at 40 Stubbs Road, Hong Kong | 3651 8888 |

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This article first appeared in the February/March 2018 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.