A child has a heightened awareness of events and surroundings, whether in the home, at school, or among other children or care givers. Not only that, their senses are highly permeable and absorb the information they are gathering into their being. This ability to absorb information can allow them to learn a great deal that is useful, but also can lead to them incorporating things that hinder their capacity to function. They may become overstimulated or begin to act out aspects of life that they cannot modify or make sense of.
Children have access to a wide range of feelings that are freely expressed according to their basic and emotional needs. They just may not have the words yet to both communicate to loved ones as well understand and feel in control of themselves and why they feel the way they do or why they cannot gratify certain wants and needs. Sometimes, a child’s frustration may be as simple as learning how to ask for what they want. Involving the parent in this process of developing stronger communication can be a vital part of not only the child feeling better, but also the parent feeling more engaged and connected to their child.
Since children are receptive to both their own feelings and needs and the external world, psychotherapy for children incorporates a variety of play therapy techniques (including child-directed interactions, role play and metaphor, story telling, art therapy, dream re-enactment and/or sandplay therapy) to harness their inherent capacity for resilience, learning and recovery from trauma.
Child therapy may include learning how to:
- Laugh and play
- Speak honestly
- Be assertive
- Identify and express their feelings
- Accept appropriate limits
- Believe in their own specialness
In addition to working one-on- one with a child, effective treatment may also request the support and engagement of the family through family therapy and/or parent education. Each family comes with a unique set of needs, interpersonal conflicts, personalities and complex ways of relating to each other, which creates a unique direction for the unfolding and construction of the therapy. As creativity is the primary language of childhood, creativity in the way the therapist and parents think and collaborate for the sake of and in relation to the child is needed.
Parenting is a very difficult job, and acknowledging these efforts and successes are a vital initial step to the growth and wellness of the family, as well as any further therapeutic support that is undertaken.
Additional sources for understanding therapy with children:
Snow, M. S., Ouzts, R., Martin, E. E., & Helm, H, (2005). Creative metaphors of life experiences seen in play therapy. In G. R. Walz & R. K. Yep (Eds.), VISTAS: Compelling perspectives on counseling, 2005 (pp. 63-65). Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association. https://www.counseling.org/docs/disaster-and-trauma_sexual-abuse/creative- metaphors-of- life-xperiences-
Bratton, S., & Ray, D. (2000). What the research shows about play therapy. International Journal of Play Therapy, 9(1), 47-88.
Davis, N., Watson, B., Marcella, M., Jackson, G., & Solzrz, V. (1988). Once upon a time: Therapeutic stories to heal abused children. Oxon Hill, MD: Psychological Associates.
Dent, C. H. (1987). Developmental studies of perception and metaphor: The twain shall meet. Metaphor and Symbolic Activity, 2(1), 53-71.
Drucker, J. (1994). Constructing metaphors: The role
of symbolization in the treatment of children. In A. Slade & D. Palmer (Eds.), Children at play: Clinical and developmental approaches to meaning and representation (pp. 62-80). London: Oxford University Press.
Frey, D. E. (1993). Learning by metaphor. In C. E. Schaefer (Ed.), The therapeutic powers of play (pp. 223-240). Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.