Play is an important part of childhood, and is how children learn about the world and develop skills. While adults are able to use words to communicate, children usually express themselves by using toys and their imaginations. The problems they are experiencing naturally come out through their play.
Play therapy is held in a playroom filled with art supplies, dolls, dress-up items, and other carefully-selected toys. Most of the time, sessions are 50 minutes long and will take place weekly.
As your child plays, I will be paying very close attention to the child’s actions and feelings and will engage in the play if asked to by the child. Sometimes, I decide to use a specific type of game or activity to teach the child a new skill. Play therapists do not question or probe your child for information. The playroom is a free place where the child gets to choose what to play with and whether or not to talk. During this time, all feelings and behaviors are acceptable, expect for actions that may hurt the counselor, the child, or property. This freedom is necessary so the child will feel safe and trusting enough to reveal fears, worries, and problems.
How will play therapy help my child?
Play therapy creates a safe atmosphere where children can express themselves, learn more about how the world works, and work through their problems. When adults have a problem, we often think about it for awhile, look at it from different angles, and maybe talk about it with a trusted friend or go to a counselor. During play therapy, children do these same things using their imagination. They get to “try out” different solutions and learn how to cope with their feelings.
How long does it take?
It’s difficult to predict exactly when you’ll begin to see change in your child, because this depends greatly on their presenting problem, their history and personality, and the support they receive from family. However, many clients of play therapy follow a similar progression in treatment:
Introduction – in the first few sessions, your child will be getting used to the therapist, the playroom, and the therapy process – the more shy or anxious your child is, the more difficult this may be for them.
Tentative Acceptance – your child will feel more comfortable, and will probably look forward to play therapy sessions. This is often the easiest time for parents.
Negative Reaction – Some children pass through this stage with no problems, while others may actively resist going to therapy. Behavior at home or school may even temporarily worsen during this time. Change isn’t easy!
Growing – the longest part of the process: your child will appear happier and better able to problem-solve, but still have things they’re working on and may experience minor setbacks
Termination – when you and the therapist have agreed that your child has reached their goals and is doing well enough to maintain progress without regular therapy. This is an important time of putting an end to the therapeutic process and saying goodbye in a healthy way
What can parents do to help?
Dress your child in old clothes, or ones you don’t mind getting a little messy – your child will have access to sand and washable paint in the playroom.
The session should be viewed as the child’s private time with the counselor, so parents are asked not to question their children about the session. I will keep you updated on a regular basis, and you’re always welcome to call me if you have any questions or concerns.