Recently I attended a Child Centered Play Therapy conference with Dr. Gary Landreth as the presenter. It was at this conference I got to re-visit the magic process of truly being child centered with a young client. Sometimes when we enter into the therapy process with a child there is a rush to resolution. In that rush to resolution we forget to honor the therapeutic process.
Despite children resembling a smaller version of adults, they’re nothing of the sort.
Rather, children are unique in the way that they perceive and interpret the world around them. For this reason, children require different therapeutic treatment when faced with life issues such as parental separation, behavioral problems, etc.
Non-directive play therapy is a successful and child-focused modality—one that we practice here at Sunshine Child and Family Counseling.
It’s helpful to know exactly what this therapy is all about and how it can benefit your child.
What Is Non-Directive Play Therapy?
As mentioned, non-directive play therapy is specifically designed with children in mind. This treatment respects children’s natural ability to guide their own process rather than a therapist impressing ideas onto them.
The one caveat is that children lack the communication skills to express their emotions in a clear, “adult-like” manner. When struggling with anxiety due to a divorce, for example, children will often act out or display abnormal behavior.
Play therapy helps to create a bridge of understanding.
The foundational belief behind non-directive play therapy is that children communicate through behavior—playtime included. To be more specific, therapists specializing in this treatment view play as a type of language for children.
A therapy session encourages children to express themselves however they feel comfortable. By observing the child’s play themes and sequences, a therapist can effectively offer names to the child’s emotions.
Not only does this validates the child’s emotions but also helps them to work through the inner-conflict they’re facing.
How Is It Helpful to Children?
For many reasons, non-directive play therapy can be helpful when working with children. The following are the most common benefits of this treatment.
Facilitates Communication for Children
As mentioned, this therapy serves as a type of communication bridge from child to therapist—play being the language.
By observing a child’s play, a therapist can gain tremendous insight into the inner-workings of that child. Furthermore, therapists reflect recurring themes, which encourages understanding of deeper issues within the child.
In other words, think of play as a window into a child’s personal world where they live out their emotions in play scenarios.
Creates a “Safe” Zone to Grow Confidence
Those practicing non-directive play therapy believe that children have an innate ability to seek out wellness. With this full trust in the child’s process, a therapist establishes a secure environment for the child.
As themes emerge in play, a therapist will help the child to identify emotions connected to that play sequence.
This type of validation creates a space where the therapist enters the child’s world, not the other way around. Boosting their confidence and sense of security, it encourages a child’s recovery and healing.
Allows Children to Rework the Problem
When given the freedom to process a challenge or issue, children have a wonderful ability to solve problems. Sometimes, they will even re-tell the story with an alternate ending so it makes more sense to them.
Additionally, since therapists reflect play themes, they can also acknowledge bigger emotions at work inside the child.
For example, children often feel guilty or as though they are to blame for the divorce of their parents. Often, these emotions become recurring play themes. By picking up on these underlying emotions, a therapist can verbally guide the child away from such guilty feelings to a blame-free place of emotional safety.
Non-directive play therapy is an incredibly successful avenue for connecting with children who are experiencing challenges.