How Therapy Can Help Children

I mentioned before the importance of play in establishing a good working relationship between different parts of ourselves, or of our "psyche". 

For children, providing a safe, rich, consistent place in which to play, is a way in which therapy can help children cope with the challenges of their lives. Play provides a time/space where a child's different "not me" experiences have a chance to interact safely and learn to speak each other's languages. For example: let's say a four year old boy becomes a big brother. He notices many new thoughts and feelings are coming up for him. But he is four- he has no words for them, they are new and unknown.
Some of them he can express around his parents and friends- they might provide words and actions (boy hits brother- parent says: you are angry, but you are not allowed to hit!) but still, some of his own reactions are unknown to himself. In
play he can take the time to examine different feelings and scenarios in a safe space: no one will get hurt if he throws a doll (representing his baby brother), he can do it again and again until a part of his mind gets a grasp on that feeling and translates it into something that can be dealt with in a new way. 
Many children don't need therapy in order to do this. When is therapy called for?
  • Gifted children: are often more sensitive and notice a wider range of thoughts and feelings inside themselves. This takes more time to process so they need more time/space to play. But gifted children are often also more sensitive to the environment and may find it more difficult to get into the "zone" needed for them to feel safe in their play. Knowing there is a consistent place/time that is dedicated for this purpose can be very useful for these children. 

  • Children who need to be drawn out, who are often thought about as ASD (autism spectrum disorder) are children who have difficulty in creating a play space/time for themselves in their own minds.
    They drift into empty daydreaming or busy themselves with soothing repetitive activities. They miss out on the opportunity provided by play to find an internal language in which the different parts of their experience can communicate. Their experience becomes isolated and unknown. For those children therapy can be a life line as it will guide them to ways in which they could communicate internally and with other people. 
  • Children who suffered trauma: trauma can be thought of as an event or process which is unthinkable- something so devastating to a child's sense of being that it can't even be played out in one's head. Trauma needs to be either dissociated or evacuated by means of acting out. Therapy can help process trauma and make it into a thinkable thing that can be examined by the child and therapist through play. EMDR is a technique that can often be very helpful when processing trauma with children. 

When working with young children (2-7ish) I often use projective play such as toy figures, cars trains, dolls etc. as well as pretend play and drawing.
with older children, teens and some adults I use sand tray therapy, Expressive Arts Therapy: drama, story, photography and poetry as play modalities in the therapy room. As I mentioned, art, philosophy and religion are more adult ways of doing play: adults cannot become children again even when they still need help with finding ways to communicate internally: so how can therapy help adults? 


Contact: 510-356-2783       oweksler@gmail.com

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