Play is a child’s natural medium of self-expression. Children do not yet possess the skills to verbalize their feelings and problems. Play is to children what verbalization is to adults.
The following is taken from the preface in the book Play Therapy written by Virginia M. Axline, a psychologist and creator of Play Therapy.
In a play therapy experience, the child is given an opportunity to learn about himself in relation to the therapist. The therapist will behave in ways that she intends will convey to the child the security and opportunity to explore not only the room and the toys but him/herself in experience and relationship. S/he will have the privilege of measuring him/herself against him/herself. As a result of this experience in self-exploration, self-in-relation-to-other, self-expansion, and self-expression, s/he learns to accept and respect on only him/her self but others as well, and s/he learns to use freedom with the sense of responsibility.
There is a frankness, honesty and vividness in the way children state themselves in a play situation. Their feelings, attitudes and thoughts emerge, unfold themselves, twist and turn and lose their sharp edges. The child learns to understand him/herself and others a little better and to extend emotional hospitality to all people more generously.
Bit by bit, with extreme caution, the child externalizes that inner self and states it with increasing candor and sometimes with dramatic flair. S/he soon learns that in this playroom with this adult s/he can let in and out the tide of his/her feelings and impulses. S/he can create his/her own world with the characters of his/her own making. S/he can select and discard. S/he can climb safely to the top and cry out for all his/her world to hear, “I can build me a mountain or I can flatten it out. In here I am big!”
S/he learns that in his search of self s/he has opened the door to a broader understanding of all people.