Play Therapy allows children to understand and come to terms with their own feelings and through play learn how to deal with emotions that could be overwhelming. Sometimes the present difficulties are a reflection of earlier feelings suppressed or misunderstood.
This is one of the most interesting and important aspects of early human development. It is an enduring affectional bond between two specific humans. Originally thought to appear in human infancy (generally the first two years of life span), attachment lays the foundations of social, emotional and cognitive development, with repercussions extending into adulthood. It involves the process of bonding between the infant and his/her mother or primary carer and its quality is central not only to the foundation of trust and the inner development of the sense of self, but also to the perception of the world as a safe place. Attachment work has come a long way from the original concept, and we continue to learn more about it and about how to heal the bonds that make us human.
Child centred Play Therapy is an intervention that generally works on a one-to-one basis and can be open ended or time limited. It requires a Play Therapist, a room and adequate toys. Individual work can take the form of Non-directive Play Therapy and some carefully introduced Focused work, this last one could be indicated for abused and /or traumatized children.
Play Therapy can be undertaken in small groups and it is very similar to individual work but it requires careful planing and attention to its composition and expected outcomes. Groups can be formed from four to up to seven children and usually work better with two adults. It is important to be aware if the children know each other outside the group and decide the nature of the group: is this going to be an open group or a closed group? Group work also varies with age: adolescents and adults are more interested in group goals and group cohesion than younger children.
Self-esteem has to do with 'appreciating your own worth and importance' - and it helps you to cope better with the challenges of life. Rejection, trauma and loss can have an adverse effect on self esteem and the child may feel helpless, doubt his/her own abilities and become 'stuck' without a positive attitude. Through play children can face different scenarios whether real or imagined safe in the knowledge that no harm will come to them in this exploration.
Parent and Child
Part of relating to your child is playing and spending time together, this is not always possible and it not always comes naturally. Non-directive Play Therapy can allow shared time for parent/carer interaction with their child in a safe and non-judgmental environment.
It starts very early in life and it continues all along, discovery seems to be part of what we do as human beings. Playing is part of growing and in many ways we never stop growing, there is play in many of the enjoyable activities that we do; in the way that we are open to new experiences as adults, in the way that teenagers try to fit in with a group and rehearse for the future and in the way that infants discover their own bodies. It is through playing that we first discover what is 'me' and what is 'not me'.
Fostering and Adoption
Not all children have the best of starts in life, their journey through childhood and adolescence has not been ideal and by the time some of them get referred for Play Therapy, they have experienced feelings of not belonging, abandonment and lack of trust. They might be experiencing problems at school and find it difficult to relate at home. Play Therapy can provide them with a safe space and the opportunity to allow their feelings and concerns to take centre stage. The non-judgmental presence of an adult who is prepared to be there for them can be very empowering. It is vital to count with the commitment of the Foster/Adoptive Parents to support the young person undertaking therapy, in addition it is very important that the Foster/Adoptive Parents are also supported through the process.
Trauma and Loss
How an individual reacts to a traumatic event, loss or an ongoing sense of danger depends on both their personal risk factors and coping strategies. Adults need to be aware of a child's risk factors (e.g., actual proximity to an event, past exposure to trauma, mental health problems, isolation, family stress, and loss or fear of loss of a loved one directly at risk) in order to recognize potential problems and provide the necessary supports. Identifying a child's or young person's coping strategy would help adults to better support him /her; enabling the child to move from a state of not being able to play to actually enjoy playing.
Playing gives us the opportunity to learn how to be with others and to 'practice' skills. Sharing, taking turns, dealing with situations and feelings that we have experienced but not fully understood and testing probable outcomes are part of growing up. Role play and Pretend play are part of what we do as children to internalize the rules that we need to live in and be part of the community.
Children frequently turn to their creativity as a means of coping with trauma. The pre-school child will recreate with toy cars a witnessed accident; an elementary aged student writes a fictitious essay about how his father who was killed in Iraq returned home alive as a war hero; and a high school student uses "gallows" humor to deal with a recent community tragedy. Imagination is a very powerful thing and it can work both ways: as something positive that we can build on and grow and can help us cope or scape; or it can be the stuff of nightmares and childhood terrors.
Family is vital for a child to have a good start, but the form or structure of what a family looks like has changed from what it was traditionally expected. Changes in society mean changes in family composition, resilience and support. Trust and belonging are first experienced within the family whatever its shape. When a child has not had the opportunity to discover and nurture these within his/her core self it would be reflected in his/her development as a person.