What is Play Therapy?
Play Therapy is a powerful modality of child therapy that uses play as the medium for emotional expression. Developmentally, children cannot always express themselves, their feelings, wants, and needs with words. Play Therapy uses the world of play to allow children to "play out" what they are feeling or experiencing in a manner that is both safe and developmentally appropriate. Many times, I hear parents say "All they do is play". Play Therapy is much more than "just play". Play Therapists are specially trained to use play as a therapeutic modality using metaphor, communication, role play, connection, and much more in order to meet the goals that you and the therapist have established. Think of it as the adult version of needing to "talk it out".Play Therapy is heavily backed by research in treating a variety of social, emotional, and behavioral issues and disorders.
What Does a Play Therapy Session Look Like?
A play therapy session is unique to the therapist and the child. With your counselor, Mrs. Brooklyn, the initial stages are largely rapport building. You will find me allowing your child to lead the sessions until the child feels more comfortable in the room. This is to allow the child to feel safe, build connection to the counselor, and provides the counselor with insight into possible presenting issues. Depending on the child, there may be treatment where the child primarily leads all/most sessions. This is called child-centered play therapy. I largely base my approach with how your child responds to me, how they communicate, their presenting issues/diagnosis, etc. If able, I may also transition client led sessions into more counselor led sessions that may involve psychoeducation, cognitive-behavioral techniques, expressive arts, skill building, etc. However, I will typically always leave a client led portion of the session to ensure the client has their time to feel heard (verbally or through play). Think of it as an adult going to therapy and not being able to talk about something hard that happened, discuss recent emotions, or maybe even "vent". Imagine how frustrating it would be to not be able to do so due to your counselor taking control. Remember, it's not "just playing"!
Parent involvement is key in the success in therapy! With every session, I will usually want to meet with the parent and the child for the first 10 minutes or so to gather any updates, relevant information, and give time for feedback. If there is anything notable or feedback to give after the session, I will typically send it via the client portal. If my observations or feedback need further discussion, we can always schedule a phone call. In the first few sessions, I typically will not have much to report, as we are still in the rapport building phase. The amount that I share or have feedback may fluctuate and change depending on the child and/or the session. It is not uncommon to have little feedback at times, remembering that sometimes kids are in a "processing mode" (similar to "Talk it out", remember!) and may not have specific "skills" or"tools" to report back. Please be mindful that I maintain the child's confidentially as much as possible to allow the child to truly feel safe to express whatever they need.
How Do I Explain Play Therapy to My Child?
When explaining Play Therapy, I like to first validate that I have noticed that they have been struggling with xyz. I gently explain that I want to make sure that they get the support that they need. Sometimes, it helps kids when I put it in terms of a doctor ora teacher. A counselor is a similar type helper who helps kids manage and understand their feelings, express themselves better, learn ways to calm down, and feel happier! It doesn't mean that anything is wrong with you, that you are "bad", or that you are broken. Parents, make sure to reiterate that it isn't a consequence!Counseling is a safe place where anyone can go to get help with feeling better!
Often times, parents come in because they are looking for a "fix" or because the last therapy "wasn't working". Sometimes I hear this when the child has only been in therapy a few months. I am very transparent in letting you know that therapy can be a longer process. Some like to compare the process to a bruise, many times, it looks worse before it gets better. In my experience, when the child is pushed when they are not emotionally ready it leads to mistrust, shutting down, and setbacks. Their success is largely dependent on ensuring that we are working at their pace. I also highly value parent input, collaboration, and feedback to maintain progress. Change relies on supports and reinforcement outside of our sessions as well!
For more information about Play Therapy