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Embracing Your Inner Child: Healing Through Play Therapy

Embracing Your Inner Child: Healing Through Play Therapy

Hey Safarians! Did you know that June 27th is PTSD Awareness Day? It's a great opportunity to highlight an important issue, especially since childhood trauma is such a relevant topic. Many young parents are turning to gentle parenting as they navigate the challenges of raising their children, all while working to unlearn behaviors rooted in their own childhood trauma.

As they embark on this journey, many parents will discover their "inner child" and learn the concept of "reparenting" themselves. This means offering their inner child the care and compassion they may have missed growing up. At the same time, they practice gentle parenting with their own children, creating a nurturing and healing environment for both generations.


Who is the Inner Child?

The concept of the "inner child" refers to the part of our subconscious that retains memories, feelings, and experiences from our childhood. This aspect of our psyche encompasses the innocent, playful, and vulnerable parts of ourselves. It also holds onto the pain and trauma we experienced in our formative years. Our inner child can significantly influence our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in adulthood, often manifesting as fears, insecurities, or unresolved emotional conflicts.

What is Inner Child Work?

Inner child work is a therapeutic practice aimed at reconnecting with and healing the wounded parts of our childhood selves. This approach involves acknowledging and addressing past traumas, unmet needs, and suppressed emotions that were never adequately processed. By nurturing our inner child, we can cultivate a more profound sense of self-awareness, emotional stability, and overall well-being. The process of inner child work often involves several steps, including:

  1. Recognizing the Inner Child: The first step is to become aware of your inner child's existence. This involves acknowledging that parts of you are still influenced by your childhood experiences.
  2. Identifying Wounds and Unmet Needs: This step involves exploring your past to identify specific traumas, unmet needs, and emotional wounds that your inner child carries. This can be done through reflection, journaling, or therapy sessions.
  3. Reparenting: Reparenting is providing your inner child with the care, nurturing, and guidance that may have been lacking during your childhood. This involves developing a compassionate and supportive relationship with your inner child.
  4. Integration: The final step is to integrate the healed aspects of your inner child into your adult self. This leads to greater emotional balance, self-acceptance, and overall psychological health.

Play Therapy for Adults: A Path to Healing

While play therapy is commonly associated with children, it can also be incredibly beneficial for adults. Play therapy for adults leverages the power of creative expression, imagination, and play to address deep-seated emotional issues and facilitate healing. This therapeutic modality offers a safe and supportive environment where adults can explore and process their childhood experiences through playful activities. Play therapy helps adults access and heal their inner child in several ways:

  1. Accessing Repressed Memories: Play therapy allows adults to access repressed or forgotten memories from their childhood. Through activities like drawing, storytelling, or role-playing, individuals can tap into their subconscious and bring to light experiences that have been buried deep within. These activities help bridge the conscious and unconscious mind, enabling a deeper understanding of one's emotional landscape.
  2. Expressing Emotions Safely: Many adults struggle to express their emotions due to societal expectations or fear of judgment. Play therapy provides a non-threatening space where individuals can freely express their feelings, helping to release pent-up emotions and reduce psychological distress. Engaging in creative activities allows emotions to surface in a controlled and safe environment, facilitating emotional release and healing.
  3. Rewriting Maladaptive Narratives: Childhood trauma often leads to the development of negative beliefs and maladaptive behaviors. Play therapy enables adults to reframe these narratives by engaging in imaginative scenarios that promote positive self-concepts and healthier coping mechanisms. Through playful activities, individuals can experiment with new ways of thinking and behaving, fostering personal growth and transformation.
  4. Building Emotional Resilience: Engaging in playful activities fosters creativity, spontaneity, and joy, which are essential components of emotional resilience. Play therapy helps adults reconnect with these qualities, enhancing their ability to navigate life's challenges with greater flexibility and confidence. The playful environment encourages risk-taking and exploration, both crucial for developing resilience and adaptability.
  5. Fostering Self-Compassion: Adults can develop a more compassionate relationship with themselves through the playful exploration of their inner world. By nurturing their inner child, they learn to offer themselves the care and kindness they may have lacked in their early years. This self-compassion is fundamental for healing and personal growth, allowing individuals to accept their flaws and mistakes with understanding and grace.

Techniques and Activities in Adult Play Therapy

Play therapy for adults incorporates various techniques and activities designed to facilitate healing and self-discovery. Some of the most effective methods include:

  1. Art Therapy: Using drawing, painting, and other forms of visual art to express emotions and explore childhood memories. Art therapy allows individuals to communicate their inner experiences nonverbally, providing insights into their subconscious mind. This form of expression can reveal hidden emotions and unresolved conflicts, offering a pathway to healing.
  2. Sandplay Therapy: Creating scenes with miniature figures and objects in a sandbox to uncover and process unconscious material. Sandplay therapy provides a tactile and visual means of exploring the inner world, allowing individuals to externalize their thoughts and feelings. Creating and observing these scenes can lead to profound insights and emotional release.
  3. Role-Playing: Acting out scenarios from the past or imagined future to gain insight and practice new ways of interacting. Role-playing helps individuals explore different aspects of their personality and experiment with new behaviors in a safe environment. This technique can be particularly effective for addressing interpersonal issues and improving communication skills.
  4. Storytelling and Journaling: Writing stories or journal entries that reflect one's inner experiences and emotions. Storytelling and journaling provide a structured way to process and make sense of one's life experiences. These activities encourage self-reflection and can help individuals identify patterns and themes in their emotional lives.
  5. Movement and Dance: Using body movements and dance to release tension and reconnect with physical sensations. Movement and dance therapy help individuals become more aware of their bodily sensations and emotions. This form of therapy promotes physical and emotional integration, enhancing overall well-being.
  6. Imaginative Play: Engaging in activities that involve imagination and creativity, such as building with blocks, playing with dolls, or creating imaginary scenarios. Imaginative play allows adults to reconnect with their childhood selves and explore their inner world in a playful and non-judgmental way.

The Benefits of Play Therapy for Adults

Play therapy offers numerous benefits for adults seeking to heal their inner child and address childhood trauma. Some of the key advantages include:

  1. Enhanced Emotional Expression: Play therapy provides a safe and supportive environment for adults to express their emotions freely. This enhanced emotional expression can lead to greater self-awareness and emotional regulation.
  2. Improved Self-Esteem: By nurturing their inner child and addressing past wounds, adults can develop a stronger sense of self-worth and self-acceptance. This improved self-esteem can positively impact all areas of life, including relationships and careers.
  3. Greater Insight and Understanding: Play therapy helps adults gain deeper insights into their past experiences and how they influence their present behavior. This understanding can lead to greater self-awareness and personal growth.
  4. Reduced Anxiety and Stress: Engaging in playful activities can reduce anxiety and stress by promoting relaxation and mindfulness. Play therapy encourages individuals to be present in the moment, which can alleviate feelings of worry and tension.
  5. Strengthened Relationships: Play therapy can enhance relationships with others by improving communication skills and emotional regulation. This includes romantic relationships, friendships, and family dynamics.
  6. Increased Resilience: Play therapy fosters creativity, flexibility, and problem-solving skills, all of which contribute to greater resilience. This increased resilience helps individuals navigate life's challenges with confidence and adaptability.


Healing the inner child through play therapy offers adults a unique and powerful way to address childhood trauma and unlearn maladaptive behaviors. By embracing the playful, creative, and imaginative aspects of ourselves, we can reconnect with our core being and foster a deeper sense of emotional well-being. Whether through art, movement, or storytelling, play therapy invites us to embark on a journey of self-discovery and healing, ultimately leading to a more fulfilling and balanced life.

By committing to this process, you can transform your relationship with yourself and others, leading to a more authentic and joyful existence. Remember, the path to healing is a journey, not a destination. Embrace the process, be kind to yourself, and allow the playful spirit within you to guide the way.


About the Author:

Paige Whitley is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Florida. With over 3 years of dedicated experience, Paige has become a trusted ally for diverse populations, including the neurodivergent community, trauma survivors, substance abuse sufferers, and those navigating general mental health challenges. Since 2010, Paige has impacted young lives through her work as a lifeguard, swim teacher, behavior technician, nanny, and counselor. When not at work, she indulges in the magic of Disney Parks, enticing culinary adventures, and family time with her husband and fur babies (and Baby Whitley due in May 2024!) Passionate and empathetic, she's a catalyst for positive change, committed to making a difference in her community's mental health landscape.

Additional Information:

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Support & Education

PTSD Awareness Day: Talking About a Silent Disorder

Free Resources for Veterans with PTSD, Other Mental Health Challenges



Olson-Morrison, D. (2017). Integrative play therapy with adults with complex trauma: A developmentally-informed approach. International Journal of Play Therapy, 26(3), 172–183.


Sjöblom, M., Öhrling, K., Prellwitz, M., & Kostenius, C. (2016). Health throughout the lifespan: The phenomenon of the inner child reflected in events during childhood experienced by older persons. International journal of qualitative studies on health and well-being, 11, 31486.

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