School-based violence, community violence associated with gang activity, natural and human-made disasters, terrorism, and other forms of acute or chronic trauma affect a significant number of children every year (Green, 2012). Exposure to traumatic events during childhood often leads to maladjustment that disrupts the typical maturation process. These children display iterations of trauma-related symptoms including dysphoria, hyperarousal, extreme sensitivity, interpersonal discord, and ostensible changes in healthy eating and/or sleeping habits. Play therapy is a potentially beneficial mental health treatment modality for traumatized children that is (a) developmentally-sensitive; (b) facilitates emotional safety by utilizing less threatening forms of communication than the standard “talking cure,” (c) engenders positive self-worth through creative self-expression, (d) fosters self-efficacy in collaborative problem solving; and (e) derives healing from the nonjudgmental, therapeutic relationship.
For some children and adolescents, writing about aberrant thoughts and feelings surrounding a potentially traumatic experience and then depicting them symbolically through play-based media like sandplay and abstract artwork is less threatening than expressing the information verbally and may assist with integration. Prominent trauma researchers van der Kolk and d’Andrea (2010) state that simply talking about traumatic experiences does not necessarily assist the mind and brain to integrate the dissociated images and cognitions into a cohesive whole so healing may activate. Through creative play-based therapy sessions, like those that incorporate the coloring of mandalas, children and clinicians may engage in co-participating activities that further the child’s trust in others and increase the opportunities for post-traumatic integration to occur.