Part 2: The Tent Poles of Play Therapy (AKA: What to Lean On When You Don’t Know)

You read my last blog post and were feeling much better about what you do..

You may have had some sessions where you were like “I got this” to yourself and maybe even teared up a bit at the fact that you GET to do your job and see those kiddos make such progress..

But THEN..

..they creeped up again, those nasty, what-am-I-doing those nasty seed ticks that are on you and biting before you even know it (you can tell I live in the South:))

Again, remember that you know play therapy works by looking at it’s positive effects. The child gets better, becomes more regulated, gets better grades, and reports being happier overall.

But, to help you even more with having that solid foundation of the mechanics of play therapy, I’m going to briefly review some of the major tenets of play therapy.

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Like I said in the earlier post, even if you know this stuff, it’s always a good reminder for review.  Even now, after doing play therapy for many years, I will pull out my Garry Landreth video or watch Terry Kottman on YouTube just to make sure I’m doing the best job I can with the children in my office.

Here ya go, my 4 tent poles of play therapy I lean on when that nagging voice creeps in..

 1. Keep in mind that children don’t communicate like adults

(this GREAT video by APT demonstrates this very well).  So, it doesn’t mean you are failing if the child isn’t telling you her deepest darkest fears in words.

Remember: play is the vocabulary of therapy with children and words on their toys.  Words aren’t necessary for healing to happen, no matter the client’s age.

       2.     Relationship is key.  

Even if you are coloring with a child side-by-side and allowing that little traumatized boy to just be, you are building trust and a relationship.  When you are regulated and consistent, you communicate on a deep, non-verbal level that you are safe.  Only within this fertile ground of relationships do break-throughs happen.

 Don’t get too wrapped up in figuring out THE best technique for the exact diagnosis.

As Bruce Perry states, “Relationships are the agents of change and the most powerful therapy is human love.”

       3.   Skills, skills, skills.

 Practice your nondirective play therapy techniques until they become second nature.   When you find yourself telling your son “It’s important to you to get that lego just right” you know you’ve arrived.

Like I said, go back and watch play therapy videos on You Tube (Theraplay videos are also helpful for practicing skills as well).  Practice your skills such as

        • Listening
        • Tracking
        • Reflecting
        • Summarizing
        • Emotional identification
        • Returning responsibility
        • Validating feelings

It will sound weird and stilted at first to do these things, but it does get easier and more natural.  Remember, when you do these things, your child client is not hearing you repeat after them only but they get the feeling that you are with them and they “feel-felt.” Using these tools to work the fertile ground of the budding relationship allows for change to occur.

     4.  Your basic treatment is the same regardless of the underlying cause. 

I’ll admit it. I have close to 100 books in my office all about play therapy treatment and techniques.

BUT, I’ll let you in on a secret- I don’t use most of them.

What do I use? The basic skills of building a relationship and working with the child to provide him a new experience of being in a safe relationship with another.

Honestly, my basic treatment is the same regardless of the symptoms of defiance, hair-pulling, sadness, etc.  I provide a safe space where the child can relax and feel felt to express his inner world.  Once we can make the implicit explicit, huge shifts happen.

And again, this only happens IN RELATIONSHIP.

So, there’s no need to fret about getting it “just right” or knowing every technique out there to make changes.  Show up, listen, use your techniques, and remember the relationship.

Want even more info to help you stand firm under the weight of those nagging thoughts? Stay tuned for my final part of the series (it’s all about the brain and play therapy) coming soon!