top of page

The Health Benefits of Play: how and why play is good for adults and children of all ages

We live in a society where a work/play dichotomy has caused us not only to undervalue play but to completely misunderstand and become ignorant of the importance of play for our health and wellbeing.

We learn, grow and develop physical, psychological and emotional resilience through play.

The arts are vehicles or languages of play; they facilitate the imagination, creativity, experimentation and spontaneous expression. Be it through paint, sculpture, sandplay, dance and movement, drama and puppetry or poetry, the arts invite us to play with, explore, express, rehearse and curate our perceptions and experiences. These embodied processes support simultaneous cognitive and emotional processing that facilitates the creator to evaluate, understand, assimilate, choicefully adapt, adjust or recreate personal narratives; thus learning and growing through and beyond trauma and impasse.

In Integrative Arts Psychotherapy (IAP) we understand the significance and healing potential of play and we nurture a play-mindset, facilitating cathartic release, cognitive and emotional processing and problem solving, personal growth and development. These qualities of play, alongside the wide ranging health benefits of play, can be difficult to convey to new clients and parents of children who are engaged therapeutically through play. In an attempt to convey the essential (for development) and medicinal (preventative, healing or curative) benefits of play and a play-mindset in therapy, I have compiled a table of research documenting the benefits of play for health and wellbeing with a physiological focus:


Bernard, Kristin. (2009). Examining infants’ cortisol responses to laboratory tasks among children varying in attachment disorganization : stress reactivity or return to baseline?

Connolly, J. A., & Doyle, A.-B. (1984). Relation of social fantasy play to social competence in preschoolers. Developmental Psychology Developmental Psychology, 20(5), 797–806.

Dador, D. (2008). Kids have “secret” anti-stress weapon. Abclocal.

Dirkx, J. M. (1997). Nurturing Soul in Adult Learning. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 1997(74), 79–88.

Eagleman A., David. B. (2018). Runaway Species : how human creativity remakes the world. CANONGATE Books LTD.

Gordon, N. S., Kollack-Walker, S., Akil, H., & Panksepp, J. (2002). Expression of c-fos gene activation during rough and tumble play in juvenile rats. BRB</Cja:Jid> Brain Research Bulletin, 57(5), 651–659.

Harris, P; Daley, J. (2008). Exploring the contribution of play to social capital in institutional adult learning settings. Research Online.

HC, B., SM, P., & Kolb, B. (2010). Juvenile peer play experience and the development of the orbitofrontal and medial prefrontal cortices. Behavioural Brain Research, 207(1), 7–13.

Huber, R., Tononi, G., & Cirelli, C. (2007). Exploratory Behavior, Cortical BDNF Expression, and Sleep Homeostasis. Sleep, 30(2), 129–139.

Jenkinson, Sally. (2001). The genius of play : celebrating the spirit of childhood.

LK, Z. (1998). Therapeutic play for hospitalized preschoolers in Lebanon. Pediatric Nursing, 24(5).

Masterson, M. L., & Kersey, K. C. (2013). Connecting Children to Kindness: Encouraging a Culture of Empathy. Childhood Education Childhood Education, 89(4), 211–216.

NS, G., Burke, S., Akil, H., SJ, W., & Panksepp, J. (2003). Socially-induced brain “fertilization”: play promotes brain derived neurotrophic factor transcription in the amygdala and dorsolateral frontal cortex in juvenile rats. Neuroscience Letters, 341(1), 17–20.

Potasz, C., Varela, M. J. V. De, Carvalho, L. C. De, Prado, L. F. Do, & Prado, G. F. Do. (2013). Effect of play activities on hospitalized children’s stress: a randomized clinical trial. Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 20(1), 71–79.

Schaefer, C. E., & Drewes, A. A. (2014). The therapeutic powers of play : 20 core agents of change. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Vaughan, Christopher., & Brown, Stuart. (2014). Play : how it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul. Avery [Kindle Edition].

Waite, S., & Rees, S. (2014). Practising empathy: enacting alternative perspectives through imaginative play. Cambridge Journal of Education, 44(1), 1–18.

William LI, H. C., Lopez, V., & Lee, T. L. I. (2007). Effects of preoperative therapeutic play on outcomes of school-age children undergoing day surgery. NUR Research in Nursing & Health, 30(3), 320–332.

Wilson, B. J., & Ray, D. (2018). Child-Centered Play Therapy: Aggression, Empathy, and Self-Regulation. JCAD Journal of Counseling & Development, 96(4), 399–409.

YB, W., & Powell, M. (1980). Documenting the value of supervised play in a pediatric ambulatory care clinic. Journal of the Association for the Care of Children’s Health, 9(1), 15–20.

Yogman, M., Garner, A., Hutchinson, J., Hirsh-Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, R. M. (2018). The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children. Pediatrics Pediatrics, 142(3), e20182058.


Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
No tags yet.
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page