Play Therapy is an approach to the therapeutic process that incorporates play into the session. It changes therapy from the traditional “talk therapy” model into a place where communication looks, sounds, and feels different.
While there may be a basic understanding of what play therapy might be, or could be, based solely on assumptions/extrapolations/context clues from its name, there also may be some curiosities about how it is actually set up in a practice, especially when it used with kids and teens.
So, we wanted to answer some of those Frequently Asked Questions!
How does Marble Wellness use play therapy?
We have a therapist who utilizes play therapy techniques with kids, teens, and adults. How she uses play therapy approaches with adults will be addressed in another blog soon! For the purposes of these FAQs, we decided to keep our focus on play therapy with kids and teens.
What does the first session with the child look like?
If you’ve been in therapy as an adult, you know the first session is where the therapist often takes a “history” of your life and experiences. They try to hear from you about what you’ve been experiencing lately and what you hope to get out of the therapy process. In one sense, a first play therapy session is similar: the therapist getting to know the child and having the child volunteer a lot of information. The therapist gives the child an idea of what to expect from sessions and starts talking to them about their life: who is in their family; what things they like to do; what school looks and feels like. The therapist also starts to get a sense from the child about what’s hard for them. A lot of times, a Q&A game is used where the therapist and child take turns answering questions so the child doesn’t feel like they are being interrogated or put on the spot.
How often do you consult with/talk to parents/guardians while you are working with the child?
This is very much based on several elements, one of which is parental preference! Usually, the therapist will touch base every couple of weeks or sessions with the parent, unless the situation is more difficult, in which case a more frequent check-in may be called for. Like so much about therapy, this will end up being decided on a case-by-case basis and may even change once (or a few times) during the therapeutic process. But, parents can expect to hear from the therapist at least on occasion—we aren’t going to freeze out the guardians! In fact, therapy for your child will work best when you and the therapist are working together and are on the same page. Which means we will make sure to keep you looped into the process in a way that is best for you and your child!
How often are parents in session?
This is a GREAT question and again, one that gets decided depending on the family unit, what the child is coming to therapy for, and a few other factors.
At our practice, the very first session is actually with the parent(s). It really helps to have focused, uninterrupted time to hear from them about concerns, and for our therapist to be able to get a lot of information about a variety of things. It also helps set the stage for the parent(s) to be more comfortable about their child meeting alone with the therapist, because they met the therapist first! It also gives them a chance to see the space or, if using virtual therapy, to understand what that feels like and how it rolls out.
Beyond that initial session, there isn’t a firm answer we can give about how often parents will be in session with their child and the therapist. There may be times that having parents in session as little as possible is going to create the most impact of play therapy for your child. Other times, a pop-in from guardians-depending on how receptive they are to participating-will be appropriate and aid the impact of child counseling.
After the first session, will you ever have another individual session with me, the parent?
It’s certainly an option! It can be really helpful to have an individual session here and there to talk about parenting. It can be a beneficial way to start to incorporate some of the techniques and tools your child is learning in therapy with their day-to-day experience at home. A note ahead of time: sometimes, especially if both parents attend one of these parenting sessions, some relational issues and significant parenting differences may come up. In those instances, we will be sure to keep you on track about the specific behaviors of the child we are seeing for play therapy, and provide a referral for couples counseling.
What kinds of play, or activities, do you use during play therapy when you work with my child?
* Child centered, where the child leads the entire session, and the therapist simply reflects what the child shows them. This is particularly useful with younger children.
*Directive - where the therapist presents an activity or intervention, for example, an art activity about feelings, designed to address a particular issue and then talks with the client about the activity and the feelings they experienced.
*Sand Tray therapy - Using miniature figures placed in a sand tray, therapist gives child opportunity to create scenes from their lives that may be too difficult to talk about, or to create what they would like their life to look like.
*Imaginary play therapy - Using puppets, dollhouse, stuffed animals, etc, therapist and child interact in imaginary play and role play to help children work through difficulties they may be experiencing in a nonthreatening way.
*Bibliotherapy - Therapist shares a book with a child that relates to what he or she is experiencing, example, grief, and then they discuss and possibly do a follow up activity such as art or journaling.
*Solution focused play therapy - Therapist works with child to understand what outcome they are working toward, what strengths they are already using to cope with the difficulty and how they could use those strengths to get closer to the desired outcome. Various games and scaling activities are used.
*Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) - In conjunction with above modalities, psychoeducation and helping children learn to reframe their thoughts to be more helpful to them in times of distress is also useful.
Why is play therapy used with kids at all?
You’ve probably heard this before, but “play” is the language of kids. It is their primary mode of communication and expression so using this intervention style can be the best way to partner them. It allows them to “show” their feelings, demonstrate their struggles, and message to the adult what’s wrong. So, it is much more effective to use play than to just talk with them!
“Nothing lights up a child’s brain like play.” ~ Dr. Stuart Brown, M.D.
Counseling services designed to help set you on a path of living a more fulfilled, calm, and happy life. We specialize in anxiety, depression, grief, chronic illness, therapy for men, couples, and maternal overwhelm. We can also help new moms with various postpartum concerns, moms in the thick of parenting, and moms with teens. We can also chat from wherever you are in the state with online therapy in Missouri and online therapy in Illinois. No matter where you are in your journey, we would love to support you.