By Ashley Jay
Play therapy is a mode of therapy typically used for children between the ages of 3 years old to approximately 12 years old. Play is the way in which children express what is happening in their internal worlds and can reveal the child’s experiences, their reactions to experiences, their feelings regarding an experience as well as the child’s needs, fears and self perceptions. Therefore play is to the child, what verbal articulation is to the adolescent or adult.
Why is it called ‘Play’ Therapy?
It is often difficult for children to communicate their feelings just using words, particularly their deeper, more abstract feelings. Therefore their play functions as their innate means of emotional communication. The therapist will provide numerous play and art materials for the child and facilitates a safe space and relationship. This allows the child to be able to explore their feelings, thoughts, experiences and behaviour allowing for emotional integration and development to take place in anon threatening environment.
Some of the issues that can be addressed with Play Therapy include but are not limited to:
- Family Discord
- Behavioural difficulties
What does the process involve?
The process typically involves an initial history taking consultation with at least 1 of the parents in order for the clinician to assess the reason for referral in detail, gather as much information about the child as possible and gain an understanding of the family’s relevant history. Sessions are typically 45/50 minutes depending on the child’s age and parents are involved in the process via regular feedback sessions. Feedback sessions are offered to parents in order to help in facilitating and enhancing the parents-child relationship. How parents feel about themselves as individuals and parental figures can significantly affect their relationship with their children and their children’s emotional development.
Feedback sessions can provide parents with:
- A space to ask questions about the process
- The tools to enhance their parenting skills
- Optimal way to communicate effectively with their children
- Boundary setting
- Collaborative parenting plans for separated parents
- How to emotionally support your child/adolescent after a trauma
- Defiant behaviour
- General Parenting skills and support
How long does it take?
The length of therapy depends on the complexity and severity of the difficulties. Parent participation in all phases of the child’s treatment is emphasized. It is vital for parents to support a child’s work with their therapist by making sure that the appointments are kept as regularly as possible in order to ensure consistency of the process and relationship. It is also vital that parents be encouraging and supportive of the process. Play Therapy deals with the causal factors underlying a particular problem as well as providing symptom management. It is not a ‘quick fix’, therefore commitment and understanding of the process is vital in order to achieve optimal results.
How do I know if my child needs Play Therapy?
Some childhood/adolescent difficulties may not be severe and may only require one or two parent consultations with a therapist where effective clinical approaches can be discussed and implemented. It is when a child’s overall functioning is being affected so negatively that they are struggling to function optimally in one or more areas of their functioning i.e. emotional, social, psychological, academic and occupational.
Who do I consult with and what does it cost?
A Psychologist or Clinical Social Worker who specializes with children and/or adolescents. They must be registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa or another affiliated body. Most charge within Medical Aid rates and subsequently fees are subject to annual increases from medical aid providers.