Play Therapy: When Your Child Needs Support

Relationship First

The relationship between client and therapist is the key indicator of successful outcomes within the therapeutic process. This is no different when it comes to working with children or adolescents. Relationship always comes first.

Look for a therapist that has experience working with children and adolescents. Does this therapist have children of their own? Working with children is very different than working with adults.

There is a natural process that occurs in my therapeutic work with children and adolescents. From a certain perspective, it may look as if nothing much is going on. It may appear that we are playing when in fact there is a very definite process occurring in the first few sessions.

Building rapport with the child takes time and cannot be rushed. In developing this, I assess the child’s needs. Many parents may assume that my work consists of using a variety of expressive or projective techniques. Although this is true to some extent, there is much more that requires attention before these techniques are used within a session. As a parent you will want to give your child time to build a relationship with an experienced and highly trained therapist. Putting your child in the hands of an inexperienced therapist, or one who has no direct experience working with children could backfire in the longrun.

Relationship Building

Nothing happens within therapy without a relationship between client and therapist. To approach this, I take care in nurturing the development of this as it is our foundation upon which change can take place.

My approach with children:

  • Separate and Equal Individuals
    1. Because I am not the child’s parent, I am not enmeshed with her. In taking this approach, it gives the child an experience of being able to experience more of herself, thus enhancing her sense of self.
  • Unconditional Positive Regard
    1. One of the three core conditions illuminated by Carl Rogers, the father of humanistic psychology, is unconditional positive regard. This is where the therapist genuinely cares for their clients and does not evaluate or judge their thoughts, feelings, or behaviours as good or bad. Each client is accepted and valued for who they are, as they are, without expectations. There is no judgment or rejection from the therapist. This holds true as I work with children.
  • Expectations
    1. In the beginning of our relationship building, expectations are not part of the equation. Setting expectations upon a child at the beginning of the therapeutic process can cause them to shut down. Looking for definitive answers as to why a child is experiencing severe anxiety or depression can prevent the therapeutic process from allowing them to work through emotions within sessions. Space and time is a necessary element throughout the episode of care.
    2. Being directive or setting goals at the beginning of therapy is helpful only if the child is open to this. Otherwise, I accept what is presented to me in the first three sessions.
  • Acceptance
    1. The child may react to me as a parental figure. I am not their parent therefore the emotional charge is not present, and this soon becomes evident to the child. I continue to relate to the child from my own perspective of, I am a separate individual and so are you. This alone teaches the child about boundaries, and allows her to improve and strengthen her contact skills (another article).
  • Joining Their Rhythm
    1. Children do not come into my office announcing, “This is what I want to work on today”. It is up to me to provide the means by which we will open doors and windows to their inner worlds: Painting, drawing, expressive games, sand play, blocks, transportation toys and many other activities. Children learn and express through doing.
    2. I provide methods for them to express their feelings, to get what they are keeping guarded inside out into the open, so that together we can deal with this material.

Once our initial relationship has been established, therapy can move forward: Not until then. There are some children, however, who take longer to form a relationship with me. These are often children who have been severely injured emotionally and an early age, or maybe even at birth. In this case the focus of the therapy becomes the relationship itself. Even honouring this resistance becomes part of our process, because this resistance has served and protected the child.

If you are looking for a therapist to work with your child, be curious about their education, experience and life experience.

250-681-1100: Call today and have a free 15 minute consultation with me.

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