General: Counselling for Children – Play Therapy

Counselling for Children – Play Therapy

Eileen has worked with children for thirty years and specialises in the field of child sexual abuse. She has trained and worked in the fields of Pre-school Education, Mental Handicap and Child Psychiatry. Eileen is renowned for her therapy work children and with adult survivors of childhood trauma. Eileen worked with The CARI Foundation for almost fourteen years, most recently as National Clinical Director. She left CARI, to work full time with the Children’s Therapy Centre, in the summer of 2004.

Hi, my name is Eileen Prendiville and I run The Children’s Therapy Centre in Westmeath. I’m delighted to talk to you today about therapy with children and adolescents. Just like adults, young people attend therapy for a wide variety of reasons; they may be experiencing social, emotional, behavioural or developmental difficulties. They may have experienced difficult life events such as illness, bullying, bereavement or parental separation. Children may have low self esteem, poor concentration, poor problem solving skills, heightened anxiety, fear, anger or aggression. They may present with conditions like selective mutism, separation anxiety or have problems with sleeping, eating or toileting. It can be hard to adjust to times of transition and change; new sibling, loss of a pet or a house move, other children have experienced significant early trauma or neglect and develop attachment difficulties, disorders or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder , the list could go on and on.

All of these issues can result in children having difficulties with relationships; recognising, regulating or expressing emotions, establishing routines, responding to authority and feeling secure. These problems can interrupt a child’s development and they could benefit from specialised help that even the best parents can not provide. Caring adults are often concerned that therapy will be too painful for a child or that they are too young to deal with trauma or other issues. This arises from a mistake in perception that therapy for children is based on developing insight. We often hope that time will heal or that the problem will just go away. We can imagine that the children are largely unaware of what is going on around them, but children usually know more than we recognise. However, powerful physical impulses can keep even very distressed children moving around and playing in a way that can lead us to imagine that they’re not hurting inside. We can inadvertently leave them hurting too much and needing to finding a way of coping that may ultimately harm them. It can reassure parents to learn that play therapy provides the child with enjoyable experiences, that alleviate the stress and help them to overcome difficulties while simultaneously providing satisfaction, pleasure and opportunities to experience themselves as competent, capable and fun to be with.

Research supports play therapy as an effective intervention. It uses the power of play to help children achieve optimal growth and development and prevent or resolve developmental, psychosocial or emotional difficulties. Children can not benefit from talk therapy like adults can, just as adults talk out problems, children play out their difficulties. Children are not able to describe complex thoughts and feelings in words but their play gives us a window into their inner world, their worries, preoccupations and confusions and brings the child to a deeper level than their verbal skills would allow. Child therapists will have undertaken specific training so that they can use play and developmentally appropriate materials and approaches in therapy.

Children communicate most fluidity through play, it’s their first language and they use it to make sense of things, to overcome problems and resolve trauma. Through therapeutic play a child can develop self confidence, a positive self image, express feelings, make decisions and learn news ways to cope with difficult situations, not only that; but they do so while enjoying themselves and having fun. Our first priority with all children is to ensure that their basic needs are met and that they’re safe and secure. Once these basics are assured we seek to provide them with experiences where they feel understood, accepted, competent and valued. When we do this they will find creative ways to learn and to resolve difficulties. Play therapy provides a specially designed environment and an attuned relationship within which the child is free to communicate non-verbally, symbolically and creatively. Play therapy is actually a useful intervention for all children as it facilitates them in making sense of the world, reaching their potential and developing resilience and emotional intelligence. It is used with children and adolescents from 2yrs of age up.

Play therapists can also provide play based programmes for parents of younger infants when appropriate. Child therapists work in partnership with child’s carers and will accept referrals from parents or professionals. The initial contact will be with the relevant adults and provides an opportunity to explore the child’s experiences and difficulties. They can also provide parents with personal support and guidance. Caring for a troubled child can be very demanding and draining. Intake sessions also provide the parent with an opportunity to learn more about the way the therapist works, their training and qualifications, fees and other requirements. If the child is dealing with complex difficulties, the parent is advised to ensure that the therapist is fully qualified, both as a counsellor or psychotherapist and as a play therapist. This will have involved at least three years of specialised training. The parent attends regular reviews throughout the child’s therapy. As a general guide, children will usually attend a minimum of 10-15 play sessions and those with complex histories will often attend for more than a year.

Thank you.