Children naturally work through many of their struggles and worries in their play on their own. Much like we all have our own coping strategies as adults. But sometimes we need a little extra help. A therapeutic play environment provides play materials carefully chosen to support dramatic play, expressive art, and symbolic play. This allows the child to express – often non-verbally and non-directly – what they may be experiencing. For example the ‘puppet’ may be sad, not directly expressed as the child being sad. This gives the child a safe distance from the, sometimes threatening, thoughts and emotions. Through play, children can learn new skills, express emotions, learning coping strategies to deal with distress, and build social skills. Some reasons a child may enter play therapy: anxiety, trauma (remember what may be traumatic to a child may not be viewed as traumatic to an adult), life transitions, diagnoses (i.e. OCD, ADHD), separation and divorce, illness, learning disorders, etc.
With older children and adolescents I combine art techniques, metaphor and symbolism with talk therapy. The therapy evolves based on age, development, needs expressed, personality and interests of the child/adolescent. The main guidepost for success in counselling adolescents is building a trusting relationship.
Indicators of stress behaviours in children may include: changes in appetite, or sleep patterns; irritability; mood fluctuations; elevated anxiety; decreased engagement in play; repetitive or compulsive behaviours; rigidity in thinking patterns or dealing with routine changes; negative thinking patterns; sadness; social challenges; bullying, etc.