Recent neuroscience research has shown the potential of play therapy and the use of metaphor in creating new neural pathways thereby changing the make-up of the brain. Play therapy acts as a ‘brain sculptor’ quietening the amygdala and assisting in the release of feel-good chemicals such as oxytocin. The impact of mirror neurons and oxytocin on the therapeutic relationship has also been noted:

  • You do not feel aggressive or anxious – you feel calm and psychologically strong
  • You have a feeling that everything is well in your world
  • You have a deep sense of well-being
  • You feel safe
  • Your immune system works better
  • You are better able to learn

Play therapy helps deal with an ‘out of control child’

  • When this happens the reptilian brain has taken over from the cortex or rational brain
  • The ‘IQ’ is reduced
  • Talking is no use – child has to be calmed through play and reflection
  • New neural pathways develop as we record new experience for the good – through therapy and for the bad by repeated patterns of abuse.

More brain centres light up in response to metaphor than any other form of human communication about emotions, forming new neural pathways.

So symbolic / fantasy play with its use of metaphors provides new experiences that develops the brain/mind.

  • Continuation of brain plasticity is promoted through play therapy and note particular benefit of metaphor to form new neural pathways

Levin and Modell (1997).

Cozolino (2002)

Gehardt (2004)