Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Psychotherapy for Children / Play Therapy

        Over the summer I've been giving a number of presentations to school boards, specifically to school social workers, psychologists, nurses, child and youth workers, teachers, their staff related to helping students. From ages five to seventeen, these school based helping professionals see it all.

So, what do they want with me and what can I offer them? Immediately effective interventions. I almost hesitate keeping that last line in because my own mind tells me things like it might sound a bit cocky or arrogant but — this is what my career and research is about, finding interventions that work.

One of these interventions that (sometimes) immediately and are (almost always) effective that is of interest to the school based helping professionals I work with is play therapy. 

        Back in the summer of 2013, an article I wrote for Playground magazinePlay in the Assessment and Treatment of Children was published. It's a simple and short article. My objective was to expose that play techniques can be useful in doing legitimate evidence-supported work and that play is not unfounded or imprecise. 

Canadian Association for Child and Play Therapy's Playground Magazine, Summer 2013 Issue
You may be asking yourself at this point, what is play therapy!? Play is just that, playful activities such as games, toys, puppets, creative arts, music, dance, and even things like yoga. The therapy part is about making the play therapeutic. Specifically, integrating playful activities to become therapeutic techniques. For example: educating about emotions/feelings, finding ways to communicate/express thoughts and feelings, and even help with the bonding/attachment process. The more technical definition is that play therapists use play techniques therapeutically to alleviate, prevent, or resolve psychosocial issues.

Sounds useful, right!? I thought so too. When I first became acquainted with play therapy I was not surprised that children enjoy it but I was struck to discover the profound effects it made on children's lives. At this point in my career, I immersed myself in learning about and becoming trained in play therapy.

        Let's take a moment to dispel the hokum of play as therapy. In recent years, researchers have become interested in experimental, controlled studies with play therapy interventions for children. The outcome of in this inquiry: play as a therapeutic intervention has a .66 effect size. This is considered a moderate effect size and in controlled situations where the parent participated in the child's therapy as a therapist, the effect size bumped up to .80 and this ranged from three to sixteen years old!

We're not done there yet.. there are talented clinicians around the world, working with children and adolescents adapting popular adult therapies (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Acceptance & Commitment Therapy) for children!

Greco's 2008 edited volume on using third wave cognitive behavioral treatments for children & adolescents.
Books like the above one are exciting because the skills that we know are valuable to improving awareness, psychological flexibility, quality of life, and contact with valued life domains are accessible to children and adolescents. Research is now demonstrating that we can use mindfulness processes to enhance secure attachment. This is extremely relevant to children and training them with skills to move forward in their lives.

It should come as no surprise that my next publication, a book I'm currently contracted to write will be for teens and focuses on healing attachment issues using the very processes I'm writing about in this post. I continually find myself interested in these seemingly simple but holistic healing practices.

        Lastly, if you're looking for one: a child therapist, child psychotherapist, play therapist needs to be someone who is regulated, a legitimate health professional. This is something I've written about before at length but allow me to briefly reiterate, the following are a must: graduate education (master's degree), regulation (member of a professional college), and qualified (trained/supervised) in this way of working.

Hamilton, ON