One topic I have been eager to educate parents about is what parents can expect when they bring their child to therapy. Every therapist has their own style and practices differently and has their own unique style. I can only speak for how I have chosen to practice.
First, I made the choice to only see children 13 and under. (Occasionally I will see kids up to 16).
In my practice, I meet with the child’s parents without the child for the first session. I want to hear from them what brought them here, why now, and what are they hoping to accomplish by bringing their child for therapy. I make them aware that they will be a big part of their child succeeding in therapy. I see their child one hour a week. They are with them the remaining 167 hours!! They will need to implement and support strategies we work on in therapy.
The second session I see their child. Parents often ask me what we do in a session. Are we not just “playing”? Depending on the age of the child, their comfort level and temperament, sometimes parents stay with their child for the first session or at least part of it. Other children want their “own time” and and completely fine with their parent leaving. The first session I am establishing trust and rapport with a child so I leave this decision to whatever makes the child more comfortable.
The first session is usually a “getting to know you” session. I will play an ice breaker game and talk about subjects that are non-threatening to a child. However, over the course of my practice, I have had many children who just start right in on what is bothering them and tell me they have been waiting to come in. I always start where the child is at. If they want to jump in, we jump in!
Parents often ask “Are you just playing during the session?” Play therapy is used to help children express their feelings. Many times children do not have the vocabulary to verbalize what is troubling them. Sometimes, they have the words, but don’t want to say how they feel or what happened. Play therapy provides an opportunity for them to do that. In play therapy, toys are like the child’s words and play is the child’s language. (Landreth 2002). Therapy games, sand, paint, puppets, clay and other mediums are used to help the child feel comfortable expressing feelings at his or her own cognitive level. Play therapy is different from regular play in that the therapist helps the child address and resolve problems. The therapist helps the child with problem solving or irrational thinking or communication skills at the child’s level of thinking.
In my practice, play is one of the approaches I use. There are other modes of therapies that are used depending on the issue. At the end of the session, I talk with parents about what we worked on in therapy today (with child’s permission depending on age). I provide strategies the parent can use to reinforce concepts we have learned in session. When needed I will meet with parents alone to discuss progress or additional concerns that may arise.
I limit my practice to seeing children. I was a “Jack of all Trades” when I worked in the hospital. I had to be and I loved it!! I worked with every type of situation you could imagine and some that you would not want to imagine. It fit the setting, being a Jack of all Trades. Just like we have pediatricians, cardiologists, orthopedic surgeons, etc.…, we also have therapists who specialize in certain areas of practice, such as marriage counseling, geriatrics, addiction, children and family therapists.
For the past 15 years, I have worked specifically with families of young children. My experience and continuing education reflect that. My office is set up to serve children and families. I hope this has given you an idea of what to expect from therapy and a glimpse into the way I choose to practice.