What to Expect at a Play Therapy Session
Before the Play Therapy Session:
When you arrive
Before and after your child’s play session the psychologist will greet you briefly and then focus on your child so they know this is their special time.
How long will the session take?
Therapy sessions take 45 minutes. The therapist may recommend 30 minute sessions for very young children.
What happens if my child doesn't want to go the the therapy room?
While most children enjoy their therapy sessions, sometimes in the beginning, leaving parents/carers in the waiting room can be hard. Likewise, after your child has been attending therapy for a while, the emotional work done during sessions can be hard and may make them reluctant to go to the therapy room in subsequent sessions. If your child is reluctant to leave you the therapist will work with your child to help ease the transition. It is difficult for some parents to refrain from verbally encouraging or persuading their children to go to the playroom. However, it is encouraged that you let the therapist do all the talking and instead focus on comforting your child. Occasionally, children will be very reluctant and a lot of time will be spent with the therapist and parent/carer in the waiting room during their session time. It can help to remember that this is not wasted time. When this happens, separation from you may be part of your child’s difficulties. Important therapeutic work is being done, it is just happening in the waiting room instead.
What should my child wear?
Sometimes Play Therapy can be messy work! It is recommended your child wears older clothes, just in case they get paint, clay, glue or water on their clothing.
During the Play Therapy Session:
Parent / Carers can wait in the waiting room
Going to play therapy sessions can be anxiety provoking for children. It is important that you stay in the waiting room during your child’s therapy sessions so they feel safe in the knowledge that you are close by. This is just as essential later in therapy when your child begins to deepen in their therapeutic work. Occasionally, the therapist may decide that your child can leave the playroom to check you are still there, or the therapist may request your presence in the playroom.
What happens during sessions?
Your child will be welcomed into the therapy room where they are free to explore and create. The therapist will work hard to create a relationship of trust with your child, both setting healthy boundaries and limitations and also creating a space of permissiveness and freedom.
Child Centered Play Therapy is founded on the belief that children can direct their own healing if giving the right therapeutic conditions. This means that your child will be guided by themselves in their play. That is, children choose what they want to play with and how. This way they work on what they need to work on and what is bothering them the most. The therapist will work very closely with your child to create an environment of deep acceptance while helping them deepen their understanding of the issues that are bothering them.
What if my child is noisy during sessions?
It is hard for some parents to sit in the waiting room not knowing what their child is doing in the therapy room. Sometimes you may hear nothing because your child is being very quiet. Other times you may hear a lot of anger, excitement or physical play. All of these expressions are perfectly normal and an important part of your child’s healing. The therapist will set firm limits on behaviour if they believe it is detrimental in some way.
What happens if my child leaves the therapy room early?
Most children are excited to come to their therapy sessions, however sometimes the emotional work they are doing is hard and they may want to leave the playroom early. While the therapist will not physically prevent your child from leaving, they will have worked hard to help your child choose to stay and will have set limits around the child’s departure. This can be hard for parents to accept. On the very rare occasion that the therapy session ends early, it is important to trust that important therapeutic work is still being done. In these cases it is often far more therapeutically beneficial that your child chooses to end the session early than to stay in the session for its duration.
After the Play Therapy Session:
It is normal to be curious about what your child did in their therapy session. However, when children feel that their ‘special time’ is private they are more likely to express their thoughts and feelings freely and therapy often progresses faster. For this reason, your child’s therapy will be helped if they do not have to answer questions about their session. However, lots of children choose to tell their parents/carers what they did during the session and that is perfectly fine. The therapist will regularly keep you updated with the progress your child is making.
When your child greets you after their play session, rather than ask them questions about it, it can be helpful if you acknowledge their session and tell them what you are doing next. For example, “You are all done. Now we are going to pick up your sister from school”.
Sometimes your child may produce art work during a therapy session. This may show strange or confusing images. If your child brings you artwork try not to evaluate it as this can be detrimental to the therapeutic work they have done during the session. For example, try to avoid evaluations (e.g., good work!) or criticisms (e.g., that’s silly) or asking questions (e.g., why did you draw that?) As an alternative, it will help your child’s therapeutic work if you simply comment on the content of the picture/artwork, like “I see you drew a house with a green door. I can see lots of clouds and a blue flower!”
How does Play Therapy progress?
Your child will move through four very distinctive ‘Stages’ in the Play Therapy process. These stages and the themes that accompany them will be explained to you further at the initial consultation. The therapist will know when your child is ready to end therapy when they begin to demonstrate a sense of competence and self-mastery. You may notice your child is no longer quite as excited to come to therapy and would rather, for example, play with their friends instead.