Play is a vital part of childhood. Through play, children express their thoughts and feelings, solve problems, work through fears and emotional hurts, and practice skills for adult life.
When a child has had something bad, sad,or scary happen to them, play is an important part of the healing process. In the presence of a trained play therapist, the child, through play, is able to process what has happened to them, express what they are feeling, and begin to gain mastery over the things that scare them.
Play is the language of the child, and the play therapist speaks that language too, by engaging with the child in special ways as they play.
For a great description of what happens in play therapy, take a look at Rise van Fleet’s article, What Is Play Therapy?. You can also read a more thorough article from the Association for Play Therapy that includes the results of research on play therapy , or you can watch APT's 3-minute video on play therapy.
In some situations, the child’s own parent or caregiver is the best person to provide a supportive and caring atmosphere for the child to play out their worries and traumas. Jeanne leads 10-week Filial Therapy groups, called Child-Parent Relationship Training (CPRT), to teach caregivers the skills they need to be that therapeutic presence for their child. There is more information about Jeanne’s CPRT groups on the CPRT page.
What to say to a child going to their first therapy session: Depending on your child’s age, and how much information they want, you can say some or all of the following:
- Jeanne plays with children who have had something bad, sad, or scary happen to them.
- She can help you understand your feelings while you play with toys, paint, or draw.
- Jeanne will not make you do anything you don’t want to do. You will be able to choose what you want to do, and when you want to say something.
- Your time with Jeanne will last about 45 minutes.
After play therapy sessions.
Here is some important information to keep in mind for after your child's therapy sessions:
Do not be surprised if your child tells you “we just played today.” Children are usually not aware of the therapeutic progress that is being made in each session. They may not have conscious awareness that the dinosaur they just played with represented something scary in their life – they just know that by the end of the session they were able to keep the baby hippo safe from that dinosaur, and that made them feel really good!
It is best not to pry for information from your children. We want them to feel completely free to express themselves in their sessions, and if they think they are going to have to "tell all" afterwards, that may stifle their expression during the session. In addition to that, they may have played out some therapeutically difficult material during the session, and just not want to re-hash it again afterwards.
If they do describe their play to you, it is best not to try to make connections with the child between the play and “real life.” In other words, don't say "oh - that hippo is kind of like you!" Playing with a dinosaur and a baby hippo is an important way for children to distance themselves somewhat from events that may be too traumatizing to talk about directly. Making the direct connections for them could interfere with their therapeutic progress.
If you have more questions about how to deal with “after session” comments (or silence), please do not hesitate to call or email Jeanne to discuss your questions.