Does my child need play therapy?

This is a hard question to answer and yet probably the one most important to you. Our first response is that all children and caregivers can benefit from play therapy. Research shows that play therapy is effective in building parent-child relationships, reducing parenting stress, and increasing a child’s self-concept. These are goals for all children and parents even when children are not exhibiting behavioral problems. Our second response is that play therapy has been shown to be effective with minor to severe emotional and behavioral problems. If your child is experiencing moodiness, engaging in worrisome behaviors, or just doesn’t seem like themselves, then you should seek consultation with a play therapist. At EmpathyWell, we’re not in this for the money. We will work with you to quickly determine whether your child would benefit from play therapy, or if another service is needed, or if your child is just being a child and there is no need for services. We want you to feel good about your child and your relationship with your child and will do our best to make this happen through clear communication about our observations and insights regarding your situation. Based on observation, assessment, and consultation with the play therapist, you will be the one to make the most informed decision about if your child needs play therapy.

How can play therapy help?

Play therapy is a counseling approach in which the relationship between therapist and child is the foundation for therapeutic change. The therapist provides attitudinal conditions and developmentally appropriate materials to facilitate free expression and self-directed play of the child. Play serves as the child’s language. In a safe environment, the child moves toward positive behaviors and ways of being.

But how does all of this actually result in greater wellness, regulation, and behaviors for children? You may have noticed that even if your child has a strong vocabulary and ability to talk, they often struggle with expressing their feelings clearly or explaining why they do the things they do. In play therapy, your child will be able to express themselves in their developmentally appropriate language of play, often using the toys as words rather than talking. This is the first way that play therapy helps. The child expresses themselves more clearly and the therapist is skillful and attuned to listening in the language of play. This leads to less frustration for your child when they try to explain or understand themselves.

The second way that play therapy helps is that the play therapist facilitates the development of skills in your child such as appropriate expression of feelings, learning to regulate their feelings and behaviors, following limits, increasing empathy, and taking responsibility. Play therapists’ responses are designed to facilitate specific skills for your child. Through your child’s relationship with the therapist, your child will feel safe to engage in creative and constructive ways to get their needs met and develop positive coping skills.

The third way that play therapy can help is that the play therapist will work with you to develop greater understanding of your child’s needs and motivations, as well as help you develop skills to respond to your child in ways that will develop your child’s wellness and your relationship with your child.

We recommend that you as the parent or primary caretaker watch the video Introduction to Play Therapy for Parents to help you understand how play therapy will be beneficial to your child and your family.

What toys are in a play therapy room? Can my child bring their own toys?

Evidence-based play therapy involves the use of five categories of materials (Kottman, 2003) including family/nurturing, expressive toys, scary toys, aggressive toys, and pretend/fantasy toys. For the family/nurturing category, materials provide the child the opportunity act in the role of adult or child especially within family contexts, whether it be a meticulous role of sweeping and washing or the nurturing role of feeding and clothing. Expressive toys and materials include arts and crafts materials and allow for expression of creativity. Scary toys include materials that typically solicit fear in larger society such as spiders and snakes. Scary toys help children address their own fears and anxieties. Aggressive toys, such as rubber knives, dart guns, or handcuffs, allow children to explore themes of power, control, and anger. Pretend/fantasy toys such as dress up clothes, puppets, and medical kits allow children to deeply explore the adult world in a safe environment.

We advise against children bringing their own toys to play therapy. In play therapy, we hope to establish new patterns of communication and behaviors which may be inhibited if children are bringing in materials for which they have already established a pattern with which to play.

How do I talk to my child about coming to play therapy?

Parent Script: Play therapy is a time in which you will come to the playroom to talk or play with the toys in lots of the ways you like. In play therapy, you will meet a (provide name of play therapist here) who you can call by their first name and you’ll be in the playroom with. Play therapy is a place where you can share whatever is on your mind or play in ways to share how you feel.

We recommend that you introduce play therapy to your child through Dr. Ray’s Introduction to Play Therapy for Children below:

Do you require both parents’/all guardians’ consent?

At EmpathyWell we believe that we can best help children by supporting change and growth within as many of the child’s typical environments and important relationships as possible. Therefore, when divorce has occurred within the family, we find it important to reach out to both parents. Additionally, we encourage all parents/guardians to be actively involved in the counseling process with their child in order to provide cohesion and maximize support for the child. We will require both parents or guardians to complete consent paperwork prior to your child obtaining services.

If I bring my child during the day, what about school?

We know school is important and that it is common to worry about your child missing part of the school day due to the potential of missing important schoolwork and lessons. However, we also value the importance of mental health and the difficulties it can contribute to a child performing to the best of their abilities within the school environment. Therefore, although we will do our best to provide after school appointments to best meet your schedule, sometimes the scheduling of a child’s session proves to be easiest during the school day. If you do decide to bring your child into weekly sessions during the school day, your counselor will provide an excused absence note for each session to turn into your child’s school office. Your counselor also can work with you to find the best time for session during the school day to avoid your child missing the same subject/instruction weekly.

Can I attend sessions with my child or watch my child’s play therapy sessions?

In play therapy, children are the primary clients who are entitled to a confidential relationship with their counselors. Just as an adult would not want others watching or knowing what they talk about in therapy, children deserve this same sort of freedom to talk or play in a safe environment free from parent expectations, emotions, or judgment. At EmpathyWell, we do not allow parents or caretakers to observe play therapy sessions. However, we also believe in the parent’s rights and responsibilities for their child. We will work consistently with parents or custodial caregivers to keep parents informed of themes and progress of their child’s play therapy sessions. We will listen and respond to parent concerns regarding their child’s play therapy in order to ensure that parents feel fully involved and knowledgeable of how their child is progressing in play therapy.

Can a play therapist recommend custody arrangements?

At EmpathyWell, we believe that children benefit from positive relationships with all primary caregivers. In counseling services, we will strive to help parents and caregivers establish nurturing relationships with their children. We refrain from recommending parental time limitations for parents and children unless custody has been terminated or abuse has been determined. However, we are happy to work with parents who are separated or divorced to determine how children can build or continue ongoing nurturing parent-child relationships with all caregivers.

Can a play therapist tell me if my child has been abused?

Your play therapist will not be able to confirm or deny any occurrences of abuse, as the play therapist’s role is to help your child process experiences rather than investigate them. However, your play therapist will watch for themes in your child’s play throughout the course of play therapy that may indicate your child’s feelings and experience of any abuse or traumatic event. If there are any concerns or suspicions about abuse, your play therapist will help you to make a report to the appropriate authorities whose role is to investigate such suspicions.

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