Play Therapy and Expressive Arts Therapy
Counselling for Children and Adolescents
"In play, children walk a head taller than themselves"
What is Play Therapy?
Experiential Play Therapy, developed by Dr. Byron and Carol Norton, is a therapeutic process that allows children to explore their feelings, thoughts and behaviours in a safe and trusting environment. It is through play that children express themselves and start the healing process.
The child's play is a mirror of their life experiences and they often reveal their anger, fears, sadness or frustrations that are currently influencing their behaviour and affecting their development. Younger children express themselves non-verbally by attaching metaphoric and symbolic meaning when they choose to play with certain toys. Parents are involved in the therapeutic process on a regular basis and will work together with the therapist to develop activities in the child's daily life that will help support their social and emotional needs.
Counselling for Adolescents
When working with adolescents, I am client-centered and follow their lead by using various therapeutic modalities that support their interests and strengths. I incorporate parts of Play Therapy, Talk Therapy, Expressive Arts Therapy, and Body Movement exercises depending upon the teen's developmental level. I make an effort to meet and engage the teen where they are at and to tap into their playfulness, as well as support their creativity and innate wisdom for healing.
Play Therapy and Expressive Arts Therapy are effective for children ages 4-18 who are experiencing the following:
Children may experience some of the following symptoms of stress:
- Parental conflict, separation or divorce
- Death or loss of a loved one
Transition (new school, new sibling, moving)
- Bullying or social issues
- Adoption or children who are in foster care
- Illness or hospitalization
- Trauma or abuse (sexual, physical or emotional abuse)
Witnessed domestic violence
- Diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD)
- Social and emotional challenges
- Attachment issues
- Physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches
- Chronic bedwetting
Difficulty sleeping, recurrent nightmares
- Problems with eating or elimination
- Excessive worry, sadness, anger or fear
Anxiety and/or Separation Anxiety
- Excessive shyness or social withdrawal
Low self esteem
- Decline in academic functioning
- Difficulty adjusting to family changes
- Aggressive behavior (hurting self or others)
- Preoccupation with sexual behavior
How Does Play Therapy Work?
Play Therapy provides a safe and inviting environment for children to express their feelings and find ways to create play that resembles the stressful experiences they are struggling with internally with an accepting and supportive adult. Play Therapy differs from regular play in that the therapist is skillfully trained to reflect their inner world and help children to feel empowered so that they can address and resolve their issues in a gentle yet effective way. Play allows children a safe psychological distance from their challenges and allows them to express their true thoughts, feelings and experiences in ways that are best suited for their developmental level. Play may also be used to promote cognitive development and provide insight about inner conflicts or problematic thinking for children.
During Play Therapy, a wide variety of toys and artistic materials are available to help the child feel comfortable and work as a means for communication between the child and therapist. Children are given the opportunity to express themselves through art, sand play, dramatic play, play with books and storytelling, musical play, puppets and fantasy play. Learning ways to self-regulate and be calm in their bodies is also important and may include breathing exercises, yoga and stretching, guided imagery (age appropriate), and grounding exercises. Children will choose toys and activities to represent their feelings and recreate their inner struggles. Because Play Therapy is child-directed, children can create therapeutic play at their developmental level and choose an appropriate pace to explore their struggles.
Research shows that when children are struggling, having a strong and supportive significant relationship with an adult can greatly improve a child's self-esteem and resiliency. While children are greatly impacted and affected by family, teachers and friends, a Play Therapist has an important role in a child's healing and provides an objective view separate from family members. The positive and respectful relationship that develops between therapist and child may provide a restorative emotional experience and serve to release the natural healing resources that lie within the child. This safe and understanding relationship allows children a sense of security when they are recreating emotionally stressful experiences.
By confronting their problems in this protected environment, children learn healthy expression of their emotions and needs. Children's play then evolves to where they gain empowerment and comfort, and they can re-establish a sense of balance, boundaries and well-being. Play Therapy allows children to change the way they think about and feel towards their issues, as well as assisting them in finding new coping strategies and creative solutions that work. Lasting resolutions are discovered, rehearsed and adapted into the child's life.
How Do Parents Get Involved?
The parents or caregivers play an important role in the counselling process, as they are such an integral part of the child's world. They are able to support the child in their process of becoming a stronger and more confident person. The therapist can offer assistance to the parents/caregivers through parenting support sessions, by recommending effective resources, and making suitable referrals to other workshops and helpful programs. It is important for the parents/caregivers to understand that the child's symptoms may get worse before they get better but that this also means that the child is actively working on their issues and that they have started the healing process. Your child will need your support, patience and unconditional love during this challenging time.
How Do I Begin the Play Therapy Process?
Prior to beginning Play Therapy, the therapist will meet with the parents/caregivers for a consultation to learn more about the child and the family. During this time, the Play Therapy process is discussed, and the parents and therapist begin a relationship working together to best support the child. Following this initial session, the child will begin therapy with each session lasting for 60 minutes. It is also possible to have counselling sessions and "Theraplay" sessions with the parents/caregivers and child together. Updates and meetings with parents can be made in person, over the phone or by email. It is recommended that the child have 6-12 sessions to effectively work on their issues and find some long-lasting resolutions.
How Do I Prepare My Child for the First Session?
Before bringing a child for Play Therapy, it is important to tell them that they are going to see a counsellor, who they can play with and talk to about their feelings and anything that is bothering them. In the playroom they can draw, paint, play with toys, play games, use the sandtray (with Moon Sand!), play with the dollhouse and do a whole bunch of fun things. There are some rules in the playroom, but for the most part the child gets to be in-charge and practise being a leader. In every session the child and the therapist work together to choose fun and therapeutic activities to do together. Although children may be hesitant to come to counselling, usually by the end of the first session they do not want to leave!
Is Play Therapy Confidential?
Counselling services for children, youth, adults and families are completely confidential. The law for counselling protects the confidentiality of all communications between a client and psychotherapist. No information can be disclosed without prior written permission from the client or parents/caregivers. However, there are some limitations to confidentiality required by law which include:
Children and adolescents have a right to confidentiality, and receive the same right to privacy as adult clients. It is important for the integrity of the child and for the development of trust that the child does not feel pressured to talk about what happens in each of their counselling sessions. Children are encouraged to share their experiences and feelings with their parents/caregivers when they are ready. However, I do provide updates and feedback to parents with permission from the child.
If there is reason to believe that the child is being or is in danger of being abused, the therapist is required by law to report this to the Ministry of Child and Family Development.
If a client is threatening serious bodily harm to another person, the therapist is required to notify the police.
- If a client intends to harm himself or herself, the therapist will make every effort to work with the individual to ensure their safety. However, if an individual does not cooperate, the therapist is professionally bound to notify someone who has the ability to protect the client.
Who Practises Play Therapy?
The practise of Play Therapy requires specialized training and experience. A Play Therapist is a trained mental health practitioner with at least a Master's Degree in psychology or counselling. A Play Therapist is registered and licensed to practise their specific degree. A Play Therapist also has advanced, specialized training, and specific experience and supervision in Play Therapy working with children, adolescents and families. One may also be a Registered Play Therapist or a Registered Play Therapist Supervisor with a governing association of Play Therapy (Excerpt from The Association for Play Therapy).