What's in a Word? Google's Definition of Play Therapy May Create Stigmas

play therapy definition

We often like to highlight areas in which social stigmas are misdirected or flat out incorrect regarding the special needs community. Often this occurs due to lack of information or years of misinformation saturating society as a whole. While certain advances in technology can help break down barriers, especially when it comes to the special needs community, it can also unfortunately promote incorrect notions about certain conditions. A recent Google search while looking for more information about play therapy left us extremely disappointed and hopeful that change in the tech sector can correct generalizations regarding special needs.

Google's Suggested Definition of Play Therapy


play therapy

While cleanly presented and mostly helpful, there’s one very important issue with the definition provided. “Disturbed.” Though that definition may be correct for children with significant challenges, it is also too assuming and broad to be a helpful definition.

Our definition for play therapy: an interactive effort to help children who have difficulty expressing themselves use tools, including toys, to share feelings, needs and more.

You may ask why this matters. In short, our society has grown quite quickly to use tools like Google to learn about ideas we as a people do not readily understand. Beyond the social stigmas that such a definition could embed within the minds of parents and others, it can also be a misleading concept to outside individuals about the efforts your child is truly undertaking. The immediate assumptions and conclusions of a person about what your child’s play therapy is intended for or involves may be grossly shifted due to this simple, yet unfortunate attempt to define the term. A term like “disturbed” can quickly create a profile of your child that may be inadequate at best. There is nothing wrong with a child who faces emotional challenges; we are not seeking to criticize the terminology or ignore the real need that may exist for some but, instead, point out one specific way that gross generalizations can interfere with a very real, valuable therapy effort.

Children of all types of cognitive and physical ability can benefit from play therapy. Those children who struggle to communicate can benefit from the use of objects and tools to explain their needs or emotions; to imply that play therapy is only advantageous for those children with significant emotional challenges undermines its value to ALL children. Our concern is that such a construction can dissuade parents from exploring the value of play therapy due to what others may think about their child.

We are adamant and steadfast advocates of using therapy as a way to break down barriers associated with a condition like Cerebral Palsy. It would be a true disaster to the future of children of any type or condition should a simple definition like this pop up when “what is play therapy” is searched.

Play therapy is a fantastic way for children with Cerebral Palsy to express themselves, and to help educate parents and professionals on their needs and wants, while building confidence. The unfortunate stigmas that can evolve, though, with a simple Google result only demonstrates that there is more to be done in insulating search terms from creating misconceptions about your child’s ongoing fulfillment.