In the process of growing up, most children experience difficulties adjusting to life at various times in their lives. Some children may need more help than others in certain areas.
When we think about emotions we know children have a hard time sitting in a big chair, talking about their feelings. Developmentally, they lack the cognitive and verbal skills to describe what they are feeling, or what they are thinking.
They lack the emotional development to be aware of the intensity of their feelings and communicate these using words.
Play Therapy is a well-researched and developmentally appropriate counselling technique for children whereby carefully selected toys, arts, and crafts are presented in a “play room,” to facilitate self-expression.
Play Therapy is used all over the world to address a wide range of childhood emotional, behavioural, social, and psychological difficulties.
Play and activity is a child’s natural form of communication. If a child is able to “play out” their experiences and feelings, self-healing and inner growth can occur. How children play, and what they do in the playroom is very important.
Play Therapy differs from regular play, in that the play therapist helps children to address and resolve their own problems.
Jean Piaget, a renown Swiss Psychologist, identified the differences in the way children and adults think. His study of cognitive development revealed that children are unable to think or reason abstractly until approximately 11 years of age. Given words are made up of symbols, it is little wonder that children find the abstract nature of communication difficult (Landreth, 2012).
Play is to a young child what talking is, to an adult.
In the play therapy process, play provides the child with a concrete way of expressing their inner world without needing to use words. The toys, chosen for their therapeutic value, are like the “child’s words,” and play is the “child’s language.”
Toys become the medium for a child’s symbolic expression.
As a child’s cognitive skills are not fully developed, children engaged in this form of self-expression are rarely aware of the symbolic nature of their play.
This lack of cognitive awareness creates a “distance” from the problem and allows the child to safely express their feelings.
Play Therapy is an umbrella term to describe a range of well researched theoretical approaches to child therapy. Child Centred Play Therapy (CCPT) is a non-directive, humanistic therapeutic process which allows children to work through difficult feelings, memories, and experiences at their own pace, which ensures the therapeutic environment is both safe and respectful.
The overriding goals of CCPT is for the child to develop self-awareness and self-direction (Landreth, 2012).
The world-renowned American Psychologist, Carl Rogers was a pioneer of the humanistic approach to psychology. Rogers expanded on the existing concept of non-directive therapy with adults, and was the first to adopt the term
client–centred therapy in 1951. Rogers believed that all individuals, including children, have an inherent drive for inner growth in a quest to fulfil personal wishes and desires.
However, in order for this growth to occur, a therapeutic relationship based on acceptance, genuineness, and empathy must exist between the client and the therapist (Guerney, L 2001).
Carl Rogers (1961, p33) stated
“If I can provide a certain type of relationship, the other person will discover within himself, the capacity to use that relationship for growth and change and personal development will occur.”
Virginia Alxine (1950) was a Psychologist, student, then colleague of Carl Rogers.
Axline expanded on Roger’s work with person centred theory and became the pioneer of Child Centred Play Therapy (CCPT). Axline is known as the “mother of play therapy” and through her own work with children discovered that when the therapist brings to the play room qualities of deep empathy, unconditional positive regard and genuineness, the child feels free to fully express themselves in their own way and at their own pace(Cochran, Nordling & Cochran, 2010).
CCPT is widely considered to have been practiced the longest, the strongest evidence base, and has become the most likely approach, employed by current day play therapists (Lambert et al.,2007).
Gary Landreth is an international leader in CCPT with a long standing commitment to humanistic education and counselling. Landreth (2012, p 54) states the following:
“The child-centred therapist is concerned with developing the kind of relationship that facilitates inner emotional growth and children’s belief in themselves. Child–centred play therapy is an attitude, a philosophy, and a way of being with children rather than a way of doing something to or for children.”
Cochran, N., Nordling,W., Cochran, J. ( 2010) Child centered play therapy: a practical guide to developing therapeutic relationships with children. New Jersey, John Wiley & Sons.
Guerney, L., 2001. Child Centered Play Therapy. International Journal of Play Therapy. 10 (2), pp13-3.
Landreth, G. (2012). Play therapy: the art of the relationship. (3 rd ed) New York, Taylor &Francis Group.
Rogers, C. R. (1961) Some Hypotheses Regarding the Facilitation of Personal Growth. In On becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy. London: Constable and company Ltd. pp 33-35
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Commonly Asked Questions
You can tell your child that they will be coming to a place with a special playroom and that they will be seeing Nina. You may like to tell your child that the playroom is a place where they can do most of the things they want to do. You can show them a photo of me, and of the play room by looking at our website.
If your child asks why they are coming to see me, you could say something like, “when things are hard or there are difficulties at school, home, or with friends, it really helps to have a special place to play.”
When older children attend their initial session, I will spend a period of time at the beginning of the session with you present, talking about why they are coming for play therapy sessions.
I’m very sensitive with children in relation to talking about the process and want to create a positive and trustful experience for your child coming into play therapy.
If a traumatic incident has occurred in your family or extended family environment, I will talk to the child and let them know that I am aware of the traumatic event they have been subjected to during the first session.
I will not expect a child to respond or talk about what has happened, it is to let your child know, that it is not a secret and they can discuss it with me, when they feel they are ready to do so.
Expecting a child to discuss highly stressful experiences before they feel comfortable to do so, can result in your child feeling more stressed and traumatised. Child Centred Play Therapy (non-directive) allows a child to work through their issues at their own pace, ensuring a safe and respectful therapeutic relationship.
The play therapy sessions are usually scheduled on a regular basis for 50 minutes. Sometimes, with a very young child or children with particular special needs, the sessions may be shorter.
The sessions are generally weekly. Where possible, I like to have a regular time scheduled for you and your child. This becomes your child’s special playtime, and this predictability and consistency is important to the play therapy process and will help your child to feel secure.
Like therapy with most adults, play therapy with children is a process.
Play therapy, is not a “Quick Fix” process.
Sometimes adults leave a counselling session feeling happy and relieved, but sometimes they leave a session feeling emotionally ‘off kilter,’ and children are no different.
Most commonly, when Finding Balance is initially contacted by a new family, or your child has been referred to us by a specialist or general practitioner, the family will receive a phone call or email to introduce myself and allow you the opportunity to tell me about your concerns and ask any questions you may have regarding play therapy and your child.
Following that, you will be provided with written information regarding play therapy.
The first appointment is with the parent/caregiver only.
The appointment provides you the opportunity to discuss your concerns in detail, and for me to explain more about play therapy.
Please do not bring your child to this appointment. Following our initial interview, I will book a time to meet with your child, for their first play therapy session.
Following the conclusion of a play therapy session, it is extremely important not to discuss the session or any other concerns you may have, in the waiting room, or in front of your child. I will contact you after the first session, to receive some feedback, on how your child has been after the session.
Most commonly, I meet with parents/caregivers every 4 weeks for a parent/caregiver only session. We will discuss the play themes that I observe in the play room, and the therapeutic stages of the play therapy process.
Should there be a need to organise a phone call or email at other times, we can make a time for that to happen.
Please dress your child in old clothes, so they do not have to be worried about getting paint, sand or water on their clothes and shoes.
If you’re coming straight from school, please bring another set of clothes for your child to get changed into. This helps children feel less anxious in the playroom and can help children feel able to play freely.
Please ensure that they have used the bathroom prior to the session and they are not hungry or thirsty. There is a secure toilet facility very close to the playroom. A key can be requested at the reception.
Yes, this is very important as your child needs to know that you are in the waiting room, so they can come and see you, should they become anxious.
I recommend that you do not ask your child how it was in the playroom or if they had fun. If your child wants to tell you about what they did or what happened then this is fine, and I suggest responding to your child in a positive way by not asking questions but showing interest in what your child is telling you.
Sometimes children do not want to talk about what has happened.
It is best if you can follow your child’s lead with this. If your child brings a painting or a picture out of the play therapy session, rather than praising your child or the picture, please try to respond more generally.
Example: “you have used a lot of different colours on your picture,” or “looks like you took a lot of time doing that picture, seems that it is really special for you.”
If your child does choose to draw or paint, then whatever it is they have produced is of great value regardless of its appearance. It is special because it is come from your child.
If you have further questions regarding play therapy please contact us at Finding Balance Occupational Therapy and Play Therapy.