What Is Child-Centered Play Therapy?
Are you worried your child doesn’t feel empowered? Does he have behavioral or emotional issues? Does she lack self-confidence or self-esteem? Do you find yourself wondering, "What is Play Therapy?"
Play therapy is a medical treatment administered by a specially trained professional. Talk psychotherapy with adults treats emotional and behavioral disorders, and this is the same process adopted for children. It meets the child where he is, at his level of communication, instead of asking him to use adult communication that is still unfamiliar. It requires a great understanding and familiarity with the point of view and the mind of a child. Abundant research supports its effectiveness to treat a whole host of child emotional and behavioral issues.
It truly seems like magic how well play therapy works! But, the truth is that there is nothing magic about it, it’s just solid science and proven results.
What Is The Difference Between Play Therapy And Traditional Therapy?
Adults in psychotherapy are working to find solutions and “fix” themselves after the fact. A child, however, comes into therapy with a mostly clean slate, making our work together in therapy much easier.
Children generally don't have to reprogram, undo or fix unhealthy habits. Although children who have been through inordinate amounts of stress will have some fixing to do, the majority of our work will be focused on building your child’s very self and creating self-respect. Play therapy gives your child the glorious opportunity to get it right the first time, to forge a healthy emotional foundation that will last a lifetime. That is why progress for adults in therapy is measured in years whereas for children it is measured in months. It’s much easier to start out fresh and create a new personality than to undo decades of emotional damage. In addition, therapy in this setting serves to nip your child’s problems in the bud and can prevent issues from developing into full-blown emotional disorders later in life. What requires five years of psychotherapy as an adult may take two years as a teenager and six months of treatment as a child. Together with parenting counseling, is particularly effective.
How Does Play Therapy Work?
Parentsseeking an answer to the question, "What is Play Therapy?" are happy to learn that in the playroom, your child learns to be honest with his or her feelings and desires.
This golden habit can prevent many emotional disorders from developing down the road. Your child’s therapist, called an enlightened witness, notices, identifies, recognizes and reflects any feelings and desires your child experiences in play. As your child hears his experience reflected back, he gains conscious and conceptual awareness of his emotions, giving him the ability to process and resolve them in a healthy way.
Feelings and desires are automatic and spontaneous. They are not usually a product of conscious choice and fighting against them is futile and often harmful. They are, however, a critical aspect of a person’s self, and moving them into conscious awareness is an essential step in learning to understand and accept who you are. I model acceptance of your child's feelings so he can learn to accept them himself. As your child becomes aware of his or her emotions, he or she can use that information to foster increased growth and self-control.
Developing the Power of Decision
Children who have practice making decisions and being self-determined grow up into much more decisive, responsible and successful adults but, unfortunately, children are often deprived of just that. At school, they're constantly told what to do and not given choices and sometimes at home as well. However, Child-Centered Play Therapy gives them a feeling of complete control over their situation. It puts them in the driver's seat. The child leads and I follow, accepting and supporting all the child's decisions. This is incredibly empowering, the child thinks, “I can control my life, I can control my destiny.” This is extremely healthy for him and resolves many behavior problems and emotional disorders. He begins to think, “My decisions are important, my choices are meaningful, I can make correct decisions.” This boosts his self-confidence and self-respect tremendously, which boosts his happiness level. And, since most misbehavior is fueled by unhappiness, play therapy results in greatly improved behavior.
Using a technique known as tracking, I describe each play of your child's action and every decision he or she makes. I also track your child’s emotions and, using an empathetic approach, I let your child know that I understand how he or she feels. By showing interest in and acceptance of your child's decisions, he or she gains awareness of them and feels empowered.
Additionally, play therapy enables your child to process and resolve aggressive and angry feelings.
Your child can learn to recognize and understand his anger so he can more effectively manipulate, process and resolve it. I only allow certain, controlled aggressive behaviors in the playroom, and your child learns through these limits how to channel his or her feelings into acceptable, healthy outlets.
Some children may feel bad about themselves, your child may express his or her self-perceived bad qualities and bad behaviors during play. He may act mischievous and misbehave to show me that he really is as bad as he thinks he is. In play, your child displays his meanest, ugliest, most aggressive self and is still liked by the therapist, proving to your child that he's truly likable. When he sees that I accept most of his behaviors – though I may not allow all of them – and I accept him as he is, he thinks, “Maybe I’m not so bad,” that is his self-image gets fixed.
Child psychologists refer me children for Play Therapy!
One of the pillars of mental health is the ability to understand your own desires. I support your child as he or she develops the important skills of recognizing and expressing his or her wishes, needs and desires. As your child gains awareness of how he feels, he learns to respect his needs and himself, giving him the tools to be more decisive and successful. Your child can gain conscious awareness of his desires and think, “My wants and needs are valid and legitimate.” Then he becomes more serious about pursuing them which means more responsibility, decisiveness and self-confidence. Your child may desire many things that he cannot have, but in play he can pretend to attain all of his desires in the presence of an enlightened, empathetic witness and this satisfies him.
Learning to Accept Limits
Limits are set on behavior in play therapy. In addition to letting your child know what he can’t do during sessions, these limits indicate what he can do. This allows your child to truly and freely express his or her feelings in a healthy, acceptable way. Furthermore, when limits are set in play, your child can learn to recognize his common resentment of, objection to and desire to break the limits. He can see that his feelings are respected, and I provide harmless channels for him to express his feelings in a healthier way that promotes self-discipline, self-regulation and self-command.
In the playroom, all feelings, wishes, desires and fantasies are accepted and validated, helping your child learn to accept them in him or herself. Feelings and desires are natural, automatic occurrences that are out of our control. If your child is criticized for emotions he can’t control, he starts to feel guilty about an essential part of his self. In the process of everyday discipline, your child is often taught that not only are his behaviors unacceptable, but his feelings and desires are as well. However, play therapy draws a clear line between unacceptable behaviors and completely acceptable feelings wishes and needs, thus relieving any guilt he might have felt.
Can Play Therapy Really Help My Child Get Better?
The focus of discipline at school and at home is often on stopping undesirable actions. The feelings and desires motivating these actions, however, lie unaddressed and unresolved. I work with your child to skillfully uncover the feelings and desires underlying unacceptable behavior. By helping your child gain conscious awareness of these feelings, he or she can learn to process and express them in an acceptable and playful manner. Your child can recognize that others feel the same way he or she does, which can provide a sense of relief. Furthermore, my validation gives recognition to his feelings and removes fears that he is bad for feeling them. Finally, I encourage your child to redirect his feelings into an acceptable pretend activity. Your child can enact scenes of characters expressing anger and its consequences in complete safety while having all of his or her feelings respected.
An adult who's hurt deeply will come into therapy and express his or her feelings in a fiery way. Having these difficult emotions validated, accepted and recognized by the therapist defuses the need to act out his anger and dissipates the intensity of his or her feelings. Play therapy is precisely the child's version of this process of safe expression, validation and increased self-esteem.
You may say, “Can’t I play with my child all by myself at home and accomplish everything that play therapy does?” The answer is yes, you can. It’s called filial therapy, and I can teach it to you in several months of training and study. However, it is a much more complicated process than just casually playing with your child, and very specific techniques are involved.
Knowing What Is Child-Centered Play Therapy Empowers You To Be Able To Help Your Child!
If you are in New York City and would like to have your child experience the magic of play therapy, or if you have additional questions about what is Play Therapy and how it can work for your child, feel free to give me a call at 646-681-1707 for a free 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!