If you are thinking about seeking professional intervention for your child’s challenges, you may opt for family therapy or play therapy for children, depending on the nature of the problem. Family therapy tends to be a better choice for children who are more verbally expressive about their feelings; with younger children a variation of family therapy is parent-child psychotherapy where playing partly takes the place of talking. However, for a majority of children under 12 years of age, play therapy for children is the most effective treatment choice. A telephone consultation and/or an actual assessment of the child and family is often indicated in order to evaluate the best form of treatment in each case.
The Toronto Therapy Approach: Child Therapy
Play psychotherapy, the method of child therapy that I use, was first discovered in the early 20th century by Anna Freud , Melanie Klein and Hermine Hug-Hellmuth. These therapists discovered that young children usually cannot speak in adult language about their emotional and behavioural problems. Children may not be able to say why they are hyperactive, or why they are being so rude to their parents, usually because they do not fully realize the reasons.
Instead, the first therapists who did therapy for children believed that children’s play could enable children to reveal their worries in a way that was equivalent to adult language. The stories and themes of play were thought to be like dreams in that the content of the play (or dream) was usually related to a conflict in the child’s life. This meaning was often hidden in symbols in the play, and required the therapist to interpret the play into clear language that made sense.
A common example is the child who is deathly afraid of going to school and would prefer to stay home with his mom. In play therapy, you might see this child playing a lot with the school bus and the child and mom dolls, and in the story of the play, the child will often show (without knowing that he is doing so) why he is afraid to go to school.
Perhaps a new sibling was recently born in the family and the child acts out a play theme where a baby takes the mother’s attention away from the child. We would then wonder if the patient’s reluctance to go to school was related to his or her jealousy about the attention the new baby was receiving. When the time was right, this might be stated by the therapist to the child in clear language and observe how the child reacted.
What the pioneers of play therapy for children were slowly discovering was that if you carefully share the hidden themes in the child’s play with the child, and a have a conversation about the child’s “real” fears, than the original fear of going to school could eventually disappear.
What to Expect in Child Therapy
The pioneers of child therapy discovered that knowing the ‘why’ of our behaviour often led to its improvement, but that it was a tricky business finding out the exact causes, which is where child therapists come in. Therapists could act as translators or interpreters who could convert the child’s confusing behaviour into something that made sense to the child and to the child’s parents.
It was also discovered that playing was therapeutic and growth-promoting, and that children’s psychological development, including brain development, was facilitated through play from the beginning of life. Play was considered the natural medium for therapy, as play is basically a method of communication for the child, and is something the child enjoys and will do voluntarily, often showing initiative and creativity in this process.
For all of these reasons, play therapy can often produce positive and dramatic results, even with children who are more troubled (autism, psychosis) who apparently could not be helped by any treatment. In play therapy for children, these children often show huge improvement, and by the end of the treatment, they often no longer meet the criteria for those diagnoses.
If you interested in making an appointment or finding out more about child therapy, the first step is a telephone consultation where we briefly speak about your concerns before finding a time to meet to discuss the issues in more depth. This is also a good time to answer any questions, doubts or concerns you may have about play therapy for children before deciding if it is the right treatment for you.