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Play therapy helps children feel better and grow through difficult experiences. Play is a child’s first language, and play therapy can help children get in touch with their emotions more easily. Therapeutic play with children and parents can come in many different forms. We have several play therapists, and several options of play therapy to choose from depending on your child’s particular needs.
Child-centered play therapy
One established method of play therapy that many of our therapists use is child-centered play therapy. Child-centered play therapy gives children an open play space to “play out” and express their feelings with a facilitative coach, the therapist. Just as adults want to direct how and what they talk about in counseling, children also need to express themselves naturally during sessions. This method is effective with young or resistant children or children who aren’t yet ready for “talk therapy,” and as an adjunct to other child therapies.
Structured play therapy
Another play therapy used in individual therapy and group counseling is structured play therapy. This involves setting up expressive activities and game play to help children work through particular issues and address developmental needs. With this treatment, the therapist chooses the most appropriate activities or games in order to facilitate targeted skill development. We use this approach with children of all ages, in groups especially, and in combination with other child counseling approaches.
Parent-child interaction therapy
Research shows that child play therapy methods have the best outcomes when taught and delivered through the parents. Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) is evidenced-based Behavior therapy for parents and children that teaches parents Child-centered play therapy methods and behavioral techniques through live coaching sessions. This treatment is most effective for children ages four to seven years old who have regulation and behavioral difficulties.
Theraplay and Filial play therapies
Two additional parent-child treatments we often use are Theraplay and filial play therapy.
Theraplay promotes positive interactions through nurturing activities between parents and their child with the goal of strengthening the parent-child bond.
Filial play therapy is an approach in which the therapist trains the parent in therapeutic play techniques and provides practice play therapy sessions with the parents and child together. This model is most effective for parents who want to enhance their relationship skills with their child and address emotional issues through a positive play therapy program in the home.
Both of these models are effective with children who are sensitive or anxious; dealing with transitions; or are having problems with their behavior, emotions, or social relationships.
Cognitive behavioral therapy for children
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for children is an evidence-based approach of “talk therapy,” where children participate in understanding their feelings, sharing their thoughts, and identifying their behaviors. We will integrate games, art, and play to help children develop a feeling vocabulary and to begin to understand that “feelings aren’t facts,” and “thoughts and feelings influence actions.”
This process helps children identify their emotional triggers, notice their thinking errors, and replace their negative thoughts with positive thoughts. Our goal is to help children cope with the impact of anxiety or depression, improve low self-esteem, manage a difficult temperament, and unlearn negative behaviors acquired from difficult life situations.
We practice these new skills during our counseling sessions with children, and often assign “practice sessions and activities,” for parents and caregivers to try at home with their children in order to help children apply newly learned skills to their home and school lives.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is also a primary treatment method used in our group therapies for children. We combine CBT with play therapies, including art and games, to help children practice new skills with peers. This helps children practice skills and take home what they’ve learned in group to use in their friendships and social situations.
Group therapy for children is often a way to add to a child’s individual therapy program so that they have another venue in which to practice; it can complement individual therapy or serve as a way to step-down a child’s treatment.
Behavior therapy for children
Behavior therapy for children gives parents tools to use to address their child’s behavioral problems. In this method, adults respond to a child’s negative behavior through action and inaction in order to influence a positive outcome. Therapists work mostly with the parent through behavioral coaching. It is a method of treating the child’s problems through behavioral interventions delivered by the adults, including parents and teachers, in the child’s life. We help parents to launch a program of positive reinforcements for a child’s positive behaviors, using appropriate praise and reward systems. The therapist also attempts to extinguish a child’s negative behaviors by breaking old patterns of negative reinforcement and creating new, more positive behaviors. These systems are created by the therapist and parent, practiced during sessions, and then transferred to the parent to practice and implement at home.
This therapy can be applied when children are showing disruptive, oppositional, hyperactive, and anxious behaviors. Children who experience bedwetting, selective mutism, and difficult peer interactions or who show aggressive and/or tantrumming behaviors can also benefit from this treatment.
School consultations and collaboration
Using their therapy skills in their daily lives can be transformative for children. That is why we encourage collaborating and consulting with schools. Whenever possible, we include school professionals in our efforts to support children socially and emotionally.
Being responsive to parents and professionals is paramount, while also being respectful of the private process for children and adolescents in therapy. As trusted experts, we offer school consultations, collaborative strategies, and behavioral plans that can be implemented in the school setting.
Initial school observations for young children. These may take place early in treatment as part of the assessment process when treating a young or school-aged child for behaviors or emotional/social issues that mostly impact his/her school life.
Behavioral plans for children with transition or behavioral challenges during school activities. These are best crafted by the team—the therapist, the parents, and the teachers–to target specific behavioral or emotional issues, which are disrupting the child or teenager’s school functioning and performance.
Collaborative phone sessions with involved school professionals, and school consultations, both in person or via telephone. Collaborative phone sessions take place throughout treatment with involved adults for the purpose of actively bridging therapy goals with the child or teen’s real world demands and performance in the school environment.
School consultations can take place through in-person or phone meetings. These meetings aim to address targeted school-related performance issues for adolescents and children in the areas of social development, emotional coping, academic performance and learning issues.
Being a successful and satisfied parent to a happy child can be an overwhelming proposition. We see our role as supporting parents, because parents are critically important to child and teen development, and the key component of successful therapy.
Including parents in treatment regularly is essential. This might involve regular meetings, contact by phone, or email updates, all of which can help children take what they’ve learned in group or individual meetings back to their family and school settings.
Communication between therapists and parents is a two-way process that respects a child’s privacy and upholds parent-child goals for closeness, communication, and family growth. We partner with parents in order to monitor progress and guide future work. We also offer parents additional, separate consultations to receive guidance, behavioral strategies, and advice on how to address social, behavioral, and emotional needs on their own before bringing their child or teen to therapy.
A parenting consultant will help you identify your goals and help you move forward with a clear, personalized plan—one that that best suits you and your family. Whether it’s how to handle tantrums in younger children or how to enforce boundaries with teenagers, we provide support to parents who are struggling.
Parent education and support
Group meetings for parents can lend support around the stress of parenting, behavior issues, and parent-child relationship difficulties, and are led by a skilled facilitator. Parent workshops are held on- and off-site for parents who want specific information about developmental needs, parenting dilemmas, and parenting enhancement skills. We host and provide parent education programs on topics that include:
- Coping with adolescent emotions
- Self-confidence and social competence for school-age children
- Lessons in therapeutic play
- Core emotional skills for girls and boys, and
- Recognizing teen anxiety and depression
We also offer groups for children whose parents who are divorcing, separating, or coping with a pregnancy loss or infertility issues.