Children quite naturally express themselves through play. In play therapy, they use carefully selected toys within the therapist’s playroom to safely and symbolically express the things they have difficulty saying with words – their fears, worries, confusion, and wishes – in order to feel better. Insight and language aren’t required in play therapy. As a treatment approach it is highly beneficial for young children (ages three and beyond). Treatment requires the presence of a therapist formally trained in play therapy that understands and can interpret the symbolic elements of play.
Play therapy helps children to:
- Heal from stressful or traumatic experiences
- Communicate problems and concerns to others
- Play out issues pertaining to the future
- Deal with separation, divorce or other family changes
- Develop more secure relationships
- Bridge delays in social-emotional functioning
- Cope with chronic illness
- Express grief
Through play therapy the child learns healthier ways of interacting with others and of coping with difficult situations. Problematic behaviors give rise to more adaptive ones. Children leave the play therapy experience better able to devote their energies to maintaining self-control, coping with life changes, and demonstrate increased levels of self-confidence and self-esteem.
Any child with a problem that needs intervention or modification (behavioral, psychological, interpersonal, and medical) would make a good candidate for play therapy.
The type of play therapy that I do includes child-centered play therapy, sand tray therapy, and filial therapy.
In traditional Child-Centered Play Therapy, the trained play therapist meets with parents or caregivers first and then works on his/her own with the child for a number of weeks or months. The child’s play sessions are private and the child forms an attachment relationship with the play therapist. The play therapist intervenes through talk and play to address behavioral/emotional concerns during the sessions. During the course of treatment, I meet with parents regularly to give them feedback and discuss the child’s progress.
Sand Tray Therapy is a wonderful treatment modality for children, because it takes place in the child’s own natural language of symbols and opens the way for self-expression of feelings and conflicts that were inaccessible by talk alone. By incorporating a familiar medium, sand, the child instantly achieves a sense of comfort and security. Children are free to select from miniature human figures, fantasy and folklore figures, animals, buildings, vehicles, objects from nature, and other toys to create something in the sand that is representative of the child’s world. Both the child and the therapist come to better understand the emotional struggles so that they can be resolved.
Filial therapy is a closely related form of child-centered play therapy that that utilizes the parent-child (or primary caregiver) relationship to facilitate healing. The parent, who is present in child therapy sessions, has been coached by the play therapist to use new techniques in dealing with their child. Filial therapy helps parents develop a more consistent parenting style and self-confidence as parents, as well as ways to deal with frustrations in the family and with daily life.
Because filial play therapy is a developmentally attuned way of communicating and understanding one’s child, it can be used with nearly all child problems. It has also had great success in helping parents and children to form closer, happier, and more trusting relationships. Studies have shown that play therapy can have better results when parents are involved in the process.
I imagine at this point you’re wondering what therapy involves, and what you’d be getting into. And even if you’ve been to therapy before, you’ve not been in a session with me. So let me take some time to explain the treatment process to you.
It all begins with an email or a phone call from you. When people make that first connection, it’s hard to wait, they’re eager to get started. And I know that, so I will personally respond to your call, usually within the same day. When I call you, I’m going to ask you some questions to find out if we’re the right fit for each other. I’ll also tell you a little bit about my process, and we’ll schedule our first appointment together. The first appointment I refer to as the “intake interview.” I’ll also direct you to areas on my website that contain my forms, and I’ll have you complete an intake packet and bring it with you to our intake interview. If you have previous evaluations, or other documents that you think will help me to understand you and your needs better, I encourage you to bring copies of those to the first appointment as well.
Once we have the intake interview, people are very eager to begin therapy, and the intake interview is the first part of the process of starting therapy together. Usually people are very nervous when they come to the first appointment, that’s normal. I would be nervous if I were meeting a stranger for the first time. People sometimes have an image of a therapist as somebody who just sits back and doesn’t respond much and listens a lot, and I want you to know that is not me. I am very, very eager to want to get to know you and to understand your problems and to figure out what we can do together to help you.
During the intake interview I’m going to ask you questions about yourself. I want to know more about your background; I want to know about your educational history, your work history. I’ll ask you questions about your medical history, your family history, and I want to know particularly information about the history of the problem that brings you in to see me. We’ll work together to identify goals for your therapy, and then I will offer you some recommendations about how I think I can help you to reach those goals.
When the patient is a child, the initial intake interview involves parents or guardians. That appointment is about 90 minutes, and it allows me time to find out about mental history and background about your child. Following that we’ll schedule an appointment for me to spend time one-on-one with your child in my playroom. And that gives me an opportunity to observe your child clinically, get some ideas about what might be going on, but importantly it allows your child a chance to feel comfortable with me, and comfortable in the room. Now sometimes when I’m working with children, I also find it helpful to see the child and his or her parents in the playroom. And I’ll let you know if I think that that’s going to be an important part of our intake process together.
When I’m working with an adolescent the process is a little different. When I’m working with an adolescent, the first appointment is me and the adolescent together. And that allows me to get some information about the adolescent’s perspective on the problem, and it allows the adolescent a chance to feel like this is something that he or she owns, it belongs to them and they’re more invested in therapy. After that interview is concluded then I’ll schedule the full-length interview with parents or guardians to get the rest of the background information. Any time I’m working with your child or your adolescent, I invite you to spend time in my waiting room where you can make yourself comfortable and feel at home.
Once we finish the intake interviews, then we’ll have identified the problems, we’ll have come up with a plan for how to address them, and then we’re ready to start the therapy interventions, so we’re now at the point of starting therapy together. Some of the frequently asked questions I get at this point are; might I need medication as part of my therapy? And if you do, I know some very qualified physicians that I’ll recommend you give a call, and they will help us together in working on your treatment. Another question I’m frequently asked at the beginning of therapy is, how long am I going to need to see you, and how frequently do we need to get together? And really that depends on the severity of your problem and the nature of your problem. Usually people come to see me once a week, and those appointments are about 45 to 50 minutes in length. I find it very, very helpful to meet with parents on a regular basis, and that allows me a chance to get updates from you on things that are happening outside of the therapy, I can give you updates on your child or adolescent’s progress in therapy, and it’s a chance for us to coordinate the treatment together.
What makes me different from a lot of the other practitioners is that you’ll get very personal service from me in my practice. There’s no middleman, there’s no secretaries or receptionists, there’s no body else you have to tell the story to. It’s just you and me on this journey together, and at the end of the journey it’s my fondest hope that you’ll be in a better place.