It’s no surprise that children are struggling with mental health issues more than ever. They’re living through a world wide pandemic, they’ve lost their peer group, extra-curriculars, and every day is a guessing game as to whether or not school is online or in person. And even if we weren’t facing down a pandemic, children struggle with their own fears, feelings, and big issues that sometimes require more help than parent’s can provide.
That’s where play therapy can make a difference. While talk therapy is great for older kids, adolescents, and adults, younger children (ages 4 – 12) benefit from therapeutic interventions that are tailored to their age and stage of development. Play is literally the language of children. It’s how they work through their issues, how they have fun, and how they learn. Play therapy uses the child’s own language of play to help develop new skills, process feelings, and provides them with new ways to cope using the ways they learn in therapy. Play therapy is geared to the age and developmental stage of the child as well, as their own interests.
Play therapy is a structured, theoretically based approach to therapy that builds on the normal communication and learning processes of children. The healing power of play is used in many ways. Therapists strategically utilize play based therapy to help children express what is troubling them when they do not have the verbal language to express their thoughts and feelings.
In play therapy, toys are like the child’s words and play is the child’s language. Through play, therapists can help children learn more adaptive behaviors when there are emotional or social skills deficits, and can help the child develop the skills needed to navigate their world. The positive relationship that develops between therapist and child during play therapy sessions can also provide a corrective emotional experience necessary for healing. Play therapy may also be used to promote cognitive development and provide insight about and resolution of inner conflicts or dysfunctional thinking in the child.
What kinds of issues does play therapy help with?
Play therapy helps children deal with many different issues including things like:
- Anxiety and fears
- Impulsivity and emotional regulation
- Depression (children are more likely to display signs of sadness, irritability, or anger)
- Trauma and loss
- Change in family structure (death of a parent or close relative, separation/divorce etc.)
- School/peer/social issues
- “Behavioural” issues at home or school. Often children aren’t able to talk about how they feel so they “act out” instead
What happens during play therapy?
The therapist will meet with each parent, separately or together, without the child present to get a full history and understand of what is happening for them. Once a history has been obtained and goals are identified by parents and the therapist, the therapist will set up a session for the child will meet with his or her therapist for the first time. If your child is anxious or shy, parents are welcome to remain during the first few sessions to help him or her feel more comfortable. You’ll be encouraged to engage with your child in activities in our play therapy room that interest your child and the therapist may become involved, ask questions, or identify or clarify what they are seeing. Once your child is comfortable, they will attend sessions alone.
Depending on the identified goals as well as your child’s interests, the child may be free to roam the therapy room, choosing activities to play with. The therapist will join and the work begins. On other occasions, activities will be chosen by the therapist and the session will be more structured. The therapist will help to identify themes and use this time to talk with children about their relationships, feelings, and difficulties they may be having. The therapist encourages children in play to address issues as they arise, often helping them learn new ways to manage big feelings or issues they face.
Are parents or other family members involved?
Families play an important role in children’s healing processes. The interaction between children’s problems and their families is always complex. Sometimes children develop problems as a way of signaling that there is something wrong in the family. Other times the entire family becomes distressed because the child’s difficulties or behaviours are so disruptive. In all cases, the research is clear; children and families heal faster when they work together.
The play therapist will make some decisions about how and/or when to involve some or all members of the family in the play therapy. At a minimum, the therapist will want to communicate regularly with the child’s caregivers to develop a plan for resolving problems as they are identified and to monitor the progress of the treatment. Other options might include involving the parents or caretakers directly in the treatment by modifying how they interact with the child at home and/or work with the whole family in family play therapy. In some situation, parents need their own supports and parent coaching can be part of this process. Parents and caregivers are always kept “in the loop” regarding their child’s needs and progress, while at the same time protecting the relationship the child develops with the therapist.
Is play therapy appropriate for all children?
That’s kind of a trick question, but for the most part, yes. Most children from 4-12 years of age can benefit from play based therapy, but not all forms are appropriate for all children. Children with FASD, as an example, do not benefit from cognitive behaviour (CBT) based play therapy as difficulties with cause and effect is a symptom of this brain based disability. Having said that, a therapist trained in working with this type of disorder can still work effectively with children, providing them a safe space to develop new skills, assist in regulating emotions, and help parents and schools with interventions that make things work better for them.
Each family and child are assessed thoroughly during the intake process to ensure that the therapist and child are a good fit to work together, that the issues being addressed are appropriate and realistic, and to ensure that the goals are doable.
HOW CAN I BOOK MY CHILD IN FOR PLAY THERAPY?
You can reach us at 506-346-1313 or by email at email@example.com and we’ll get you set up to meet with our therapist for a parent intake session.