You are working with a child using play therapy..
..he is working hard, building in the sand, taking miniatures out, burying that car “just right,” and even asking you to play hide-and-seek with him in the sand using his favorite diamonds..
You FEEL like so much work is getting accomplished through the session and that you made some real progress. He’s talking more, interacting more frequently, and generally more regulated within the session.
You sit down to do your notes and that old creeper voice comes in..”but am I really even doing anything?”
So many of us WANT to know what is triggering the child’s behavior. We WANT to be able to go to the parent or school and say, YES, here’s what it is, here’s what is causing the challenging behavior and here’s how to fix it.
Oh, if it it was only so easy..
But, so many times, especially when working with young children, this just isn’t going to happen. Even if you were able to ask the right question with that magic miniature, it still may not happen. The verbal answers may not be spouted out so you can write it down neatly and check that off your treatment plan.
But what does happen with play therapy??
The child GETS BETTER.
How do you know when play therapy is working? How do you know when any therapy is working?
When your client GETS BETTER.
She has less dysregulation, anxiety, acting out, anger outbursts. The same is true for that 3 or 33 year old client. The only difference is that the 33 year old’s can often VERBALIZE what is helping (although sometimes not).
We often feel like we NEED to know. It’s the need of those in the child’s environment to KNOW what is causing the behavior. Of course, it makes it wayy easier if he we know (and can fix) but so many times, it is something that wouldn’t even be fixable even if we knew.
So, again, what to do when you don’t know..
1. Acknowledge the feeling.
2. Return to your play therapy theory (part 2)
3. Remember your knowledge of what is happening in the brain (part 3)
I KNEW that through the relationship and work within the sand and other play therapy techniques that the healing would happen, regardless if the child actually verbalized the changes.
So what do I do now when I feel that impostor voice creeping up of “but you aren’t REALLY doing therapy??”
I bat it back down with the knowledge that as long as I’m showing up, working within the best practices of play therapy (tracking, reflecting, providing safe space, etc.) I now am confident progress will be made.
Progress may be slow and sometimes frustrating but it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
In summary: here’s the 3 parts to answering this question of what to do when you don’t know…
The first part is what was discussed in this post–
Realize it’s okay to not know and that you may never know, but it doesn’t mean you aren’t doing your job. With children, healing often takes place without words. When you force words where they aren’t or when words are too much, you will end up frustrating and feeling that you aren’t doing your job.
The second and third parts will be discussed in the next 2 parts of this series.
Stay tuned for the next post covering the basic tenants of nondirective play therapy (even if you know this stuff, it will be a great reminder, I promise) and then discuss what happens in the brain during play therapy to give you an even firmer ground to stand on when you those nagging thoughts occur during your play therapy session.