WHAT IS PLAY THERAPY AND WHAT SHOULD I EXPECT?
The following is an explanation of play therapy and the therapeutic process. As you read this information, you may want to take some notes so that you can refer any questions to your child’s play therapist.
WHAT IS PLAY THERAPY?
Plat therapy is to children what “talk therapy” is to adults. When adults have problems it often helps if they can share their thoughts and feelings with a therapist or trusted friend. Children don’t have the ability to express themselves with words like adults do, so it is difficult for them to “talk” about things that worry or bother them. Play therapy allows children to communicate through play, their most natural form of expression. The toys the children use in play therapy help them play out what they may be feeling, what they have experienced, and what they would like to be different. This experience enables them to attach words to their experiences, leading to a release of emotion and further recovery for the child.
WHY DOES MY CHILD NEED PLAY THERAPY?
In the process of growing up, most children experience difficulty coping at some time (at home, in school, with divorce and separation, with socialization, as a result of trauma or abuse, etc.), or they exhibit behaviors which concern their parent(s) or teachers. Generally, if you, your child’s teacher or physician are concerned about your child’s behavior or difficulty adjusting, play therapy is the recommended approach to helping your child.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT FROM PLAY THERAPY? There is much more freedom in the play therapy room than is allowed in other areas of the child’s life. During the therapy time, every thought and feeling and, almost all actions of the child, are accepted. This freedom is necessary so that the child will feel accepted, safe, and trusting enough to reveal their fears and problems. There is no such thing as wrong or bad behavior in play therapy. In play therapy, the therapist will not “pump” the child for information about their life or an abusive incident. Children are allowed to work through their problems at their own pace. In play therapy, children may spill paint, sand, or other messy materials on themselves. (Remember, there are few limits here.) Therefore, you are encouraged to bring your child in play clothes.
WHAT TO TELL YOUR CHILD ABOUT PLAY THERAPY
Before the child comes in for their first session, they will need to know something about play therapy. You can tell them that they will be coming to a place that has a special room with toys. Tell them that they will be meeting a grown-up named __________, who will be taking them to the playroom and staying with them there. It is helpful to let them know that they will be coming back every week, that this is not just a “visit.” If your child wants to know more about why they are coming, you may say something like “When things are difficult for you at home, school, in the family, etc., sometimes it helps to have a special place to play.” You may also tell them that it is okay to talk about those things in the playroom. It helps if you can arrive on time for each session and take your child to the bathroom before session. Reassure your child that you will be waiting for them when the session is over.
WHEN DO I GET TO TALK TO THE THERAPIST?
It is very helpful for the therapist to know about recent and past events in your child’s life, especially those to which your child has reacted strongly. Please do not give your child the responsibility of reporting these events. The play therapy session is a very special time for your child; therefore, the
therapist will spend most of the time (45-50 minutes) with your child. If you need to talk to the therapist, please do so in the first 5 minutes. The therapist or you may initiate a parent consultation every three to four weeks or as important issues arise. Parent consultations are times for you and the therapist to share information about your child and the therapist may make recommendations at this time. If you have any concerns that need to be addressed in between sessions, please let the therapist know by calling them to make an appointment.
AFTER EACH SESSION
It is essential that your child does not feel the need to give an account of what happens in the play therapy room. Therefore, it is helpful if you do not ask your child if he/she had a good time or what they did. When your child meets you following a session, you might say something like, “Oh, I see that you are done. Are you ready to go?” It is fine if your child chooses to volunteer information, but allow them to lead the conversation. Your child may occasionally bring home artwork. This may depict a hidden meaning or messages that even your child may not be aware of. Therefore it is best not to offer praise (“how pretty”), criticize or ask questions. If your child offers their picture, simply comment on the color they used or what you see. “You covered the whole page with blue and black”)
HOW OFTEN AND HOW LONG WILL MY CHILD NEED TO COME?
Children grow and develop best when they have structure and consistency. Therefore, in order for play therapy to be helpful, it is imperative that the sessions be consistent, that is at least once a week and preferably on the same day and at the same time. Play therapy is a process of the therapist building a trusting relationship with a child, the child revealing and/or working through their problems, coming to a resolution, practicing new skills and preparing for goodbye with the therapist.
Every child grows and changes at a different pace; therefore, the length of time needed in play therapy will vary according to individual personalities, severity of trauma, and home and life circumstances. Behavior and mood changes are normal and expected throughout the process of play therapy. At times it may seem as though things are getting worse and not better. If you notice this happening, please talk it over with your child’s play therapist.
Saying goodbye in play therapy is an important event for your child. If ending therapy is being considered please notify and discuss this with your child’s therapist so that your child has an opportunity to end the relationship.
OTHER HELPFUL INFORMATION
In order to provide the best service possible, it may become necessary for the play therapist to consult with other professionals that have worked with your child, i.e. school teachers, school counselors, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, attorney, etc. Permission will be obtained from you in writing before communication can be shared with other professionals and/or individuals outside of The Family Place.
If needed, the play therapist may refer your child for group therapy, psychological and/or psychiatric assessments or other types of therapy. You play a crucial role in your child’s life and are a member of the therapeutic process of your child. Books addressing your child’s and/or your own issues may also be recommended.