The decision to take your child to see a psychotherapist can be difficult and challenging to say the least. First, it can be hard to admit that out precious children are struggling with problems that we can’t seem to fix. Then there’s the stigma. Despite much progress in the area of public awareness of mental health and emotional issues, misunderstandings and stereotypes continue to abound. And then there’s the worries and fear about the experience of therapy itself and the therapist most of all. And the money. And the outcomes. What if my child refuses to engage or cooperate? What if the therapy actually makes things worse? What if my child needs medication?
These are all valid concerns. Despite many advances in the field of psychotherapy in general and child therapy in particular, outcomes vary widely and the experience can be as uniquely positive or negative as the children, the therapists, the methods employed, the problems and issues.
Reviews of therapy with children reveals that about half of all kids get better, the majority of those (80%) within a fairly short period of time – six sessions or less. The rest will require more and longer-term support. As to the specific therapeutic approach used, all well-researched approaches and well-trained therapists produce nearly equal results. ‘
The key seems to be in the relationship itself between the child and family members involved in treatment and the therapist. Rapport based on trust and engagement are key ingredients.
As a therapist, I favor a simple and minimally intrusive approach grounded in a strength-based and emotionally-focused methodology resting comfortably and gratefully on attachment theory. I believe we are wired for connection at our earliest formation and never outgrow that need. For these reasons, I utilize art and play therapy as primary techniques for engagement, expression, and healing experience for my young clients. In the context of the playroom, children are able to give safe and satisfying expression to their feelings and with hardly an awareness of what’s happening, develop new alternatives for problematic behaviors.
“.. child play therapy is a way of being with the child that honors their unique developmental level and looks for ways of helping in the “language” of the child – play”. Association of Play Therapy Why Play Therapy.
As your child’s therapist, I am not looking for pathology but potential. This child is much more than the problematic behaviors and symptoms. I appreciate each child’s individuality and the special context within which he/she lives and the special family system of which they are an integral part. Therefore, it’s essential to me to work with you, the parent, the caregiver. I enter this system on invitation and full knowledge that my participation is temporary and of small importance ultimately in relationship to what you will contribute in this child’s lifetime.
I’m about forming alliances, with your child, with you, with extended family as indicated, with pediatricians, with school personnel. I understand the immense stress of living with mental health problems, social pressure, family separations and divorce, less than ideal financial realities. Modern life is complicated and complex. There are challenges never before encountered by individuals and family systems. New ways of thinking and being are required by all of us but especially for our children.
Play therapy is effective for children dealing with grief and loss, anger management, anxiety, depression, divorce and abandonment, behavioral and cognitive ramifications of ADHD. By acting out through engagement with therapeutic toys and games such as puppets, dolls and dollhouses, board games, etc. and sandplay activities, children are able to give expression to their feelings and articulation to their inner problems while learning problem solving skills and accessing their natural creativity. They develop empathy for others and through symbolic language find relief for intense feelings that may be stuck.
They may deal with fears that can’t be articulated, with some much needed “distance” and autonomy, in a safe place, with a safe person who they discover will not judge them, place blame, or be hurt by what they’ve brought into the open.
Art therapy works much the same way, by gaining access to the inner world and the creation of unique problem and conflict-resolution solutions and skills.
Other modalities of treatment include CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), Solution-Focused therapy, DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy), relaxation and emotional regulation training and skill development. Bibliotherapy is an integral part of therapy for younger children and workbooks and interpersonal and social training activities and assignments for older children and teens.
Humor and fun are also major components of the rapport I seek to develop with each child. As adults, we lose much of our ability to laugh freely and without reserve and censure. I love to bask in the purity of a child’s laughter and yes, innate silliness. Shared laughter can be a potent healing mechanism.
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