“How can ‘talk’ therapy possibly help children?” is another question I often receive. Psychotherapy refers to a variety of methods and procedures, many of which are used to help children experiencing emotional or behavioral difficulties. Although there are different forms of psychotherapy, they all rely on verbal and non-verbal communication as the basic tools for bringing about change in a person’s actions, reactions and world view.
Unlike adults, children are often not emotionally or developmentally mature enough to express their feelings accurately through speech. Because of this, playing, drawing, building, and pretending, as well as talking, are all important ways children share feelings and work through and resolve issues with a therapist.
Psychotherapy can be extremely beneficial for children with emotional, behavioral or developmental issues. Psychotherapy provides emotional support, children learn to resolve conflicts with other people in healthy and respectful ways, and they learn to understand their own feelings and problems, as well as develop empathy.
Goals for child therapy can range from the extremely specific (a change in a certain behavior or improved relations with an individual family member) to the very general (lessening anxiety or fear, improving self-esteem).
As with adult therapy, the length of child therapy is particular to each situation and depends to a large extent on the complexity and severity of the problems the child is struggling with.
The Boundless Benefits of Play
Playing is not only fun, it sparks creativity and is critical to our children’s healthy development. Play is an enjoyable activity that elevates the spirits and brightens the outlook of people of all ages. Play also helps to expand children’s self-expression, self-knowledge and self-actualization. Additionally, play can relieve feelings of stress and boredom, connect us to people in positive ways, encourage exploration, regulate our emotions and boost our ego.
But, perhaps most importantly, play allows children to practice in a safe environment those skills and roles that they will need for survival as they mature. Thus, much of children’s learning and development is best fostered through play.
What Makes Play Therapy Different From Play?
So, what is play therapy? Children who have experienced considerable change in their lives or who have survived traumatic events need to express and understand their feelings. Through the therapeutic use of play, children are given the opportunity to express their feelings naturally, and safely, thus enabling the healing process to begin. When a child is helped in this way, a clear message is sent: receiving help is okay. Therapy allows children to internalize this nurturing message and learn healthy self-care skills they carry into adulthood.
Play therapy is based upon the fact that play is the child’s natural medium of self-expression. It is an opportunity which is given to the child to ‘play out’ her feelings and problems just as, in certain types of adult counseling, an individual ‘talks out’ her difficulties.
Initially, a complete history of the child is attained followed by a clinical assessment and consultation with the caregiver. Based on this information, an appropriate treatment method is chosen. For instance, a directive or non-directive approach may be used, depending on what the situation calls for. In all cases, the treatment is play-based and child-centered, focusing on the individual needs of the child.
As an example, children caught in the middle of divorce and children who have been abused have experienced various forms of loss. Through the healing medium of play, they are given the opportunity to express their feelings and understand the events that have taken place. This process offers children new skills to help them deal with their circumstances, move forward and enjoy their childhood.
Play therapy has proven time and again to be an effective treatment for children who:
- are dealing with parental conflict, separation or divorce
- have been traumatized (including sexual, physical or emotional abuse)
- have been adopted or are in foster care
- are dealing with issues of grieving and loss, such as the illness or death of a loved one
- have been hospitalized or have chronic health problems
- are dealing with anger management problems or other behavior issues
- are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD)
- have experienced serious accidents or disasters
Play therapy helps children reduce anxiety about traumatic events in their lives, facilitates a child’s expression of feelings and promotes self-confidence and a sense of competence. Additionally, during the course of therapy, kids learn to define healthy boundaries and develop a sense of trust in themselves and others. Ultimately, play therapy creates and enhances healthy bonding in children’s relationships, enhances creativity and playfulness and promotes appropriate behavior.
Deciding to seek professional counseling for your child’s problems and selecting a therapist for your child to work with are important and courageous steps towards your child’s future happiness and well-being. Equally important is your commitment to achieving these goals through the therapeutic process. Psychotherapy can be difficult work, but the rewards for your child and your family are often more than believed possible. I encourage you to contact me with any questions you have regarding child therapy or my services.
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