Play & Activity Therapy
We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or more deeply engrossed in anything than when we are playing.
Noelle’s Parents Are Divorcing
Noelle’s mom, Cindy, brought her to play therapy because she and Noelle’s dad, Ben, were divorcing and wanted her to have a safe, comfortable place to process her feelings about the big changes in her life.
Cindy and Ben had noticed that Noelle seemed to be a little less tolerant of things that didn’t go her way and whiny when she had to transition between mom’s and dad’s homes.
She was frequently irritable and sometimes defiant when they asked her to do things she had always been happy to do. Noelle’s teachers even said she had been acting out at school some days.
Cindy and Ben had heard about play therapy from some friends as well as their own therapist and decided to offer it to Noelle.
How Did Noelle Do?
Initially, Noelle was a little anxious about going to meet a total stranger; but her mom and dad helped her feel better by telling her that they had met Ms. Patty already and seen all the toys and games in her office.
They said Ms. Patty would let her just play. Mom told her that she would be able to choose if she wanted to play alone or with Ms. Patty, and that Ms. Patty would be there with her to keep her safe, no matter what. She also said Ms. Patty would not make her do or say anything she didn’t want to do or say.
When Noelle went to Ms. Patty’s office, she immediately loved the toys she saw and was excited to play a game. Ms. Patty even let her choose which game to play and to choose to include her parents!
Every time Noelle saw Ms. Patty, she felt a little more comfortable and eventually could let her mom or dad stay in the waiting room while they played. Ms. Patty let her make lots of choices and was right there with her no matter what she was doing or saying. Sometimes they talked about things, but mostly Ms. Patty just let her play.
After several sessions, Noelle’s mom noticed that Noelle was having much better days; not getting as upset when things didn’t go her way; and was even able to calm herself down when she felt scared, sad, or angry.
Noelle progressed to being able to talk about the divorce and tell her mom and dad that she knew it wasn’t her fault – and that she even felt okay about them dating other people.
Along the way, Patty helped Cindy and Ben learn how to be great co-parents and help Noelle navigate the transitions. They were able to assist Noelle to cope with all the feelings, thoughts and behaviors that arose during and after the divorce.
Patty helped them normalize some of their feelings as well and to put their differences aside in the interest of Noelle’s well-being.
Noelle’s family has been redefined and reconfigured, but they are still a family. Noelle and her parents even go out to dinner or to the park sometimes… her parents get along better and they even have fun together.
Daddy has a new girlfriend who Noelle likes, but she knows that no one will ever replace her mom. And she knows that her parents both love her with all their hearts. Cindy and Ben constantly reassure Noelle with their words and their actions that they are there for her and have her best interest at heart.
On the Other Side
Ms. Patty helped Noelle process all her feelings and thoughts about the divorce.
Noelle felt safe with Ms. Patty and knew she could talk to her about anything, but she never felt forced. She always felt like Ms. Patty was on her side through all of it. Now she sees Ms. Patty every couple of months for a “tune-up,” and she always feels better when she goes.
Cindy and Ben are so happy they made the decision to take Noelle to Ms. Patty. They know that seeking help for Noelle and for themselves was the best thing they could have done for their family.
Having an outside expert in child development and parenting was exactly what they needed to guide them through the process.
There are many other reasons besides divorce to seek play therapy for your child – any time your child seems to be struggling with emotions, transitions, relationships or acting out or withdrawing for reasons you can’t figure out, play therapy combined with parent coaching could be the answer.
If your child is struggling and you’re not sure how to help, call me!
Play therapy is the most developmentally appropriate way to conduct therapy with children up to about age 8 or 9. Activity therapy is also appropriate for children age 6 and older, and for families.
It is often said, “Play is a child’s language, and toys are their words.” Play therapy for kids is like talk therapy for adults. And it’s a gentle process in the hands of a well-trained play therapist.
Kids generally don’t have the verbal or cognitive skills to talk about their problems and feelings, and other abstract concepts. They process things through play. A well-trained play therapist knows how to be present for the child, watch for themes in their play, and hold the space for them to process difficult emotions and experiences.
When looking for a play therapist, look for one who has the Registered Play Therapist credential. This means that they have logged over 500 hours of education, training and experience in play therapy. As a Registered Play Therapist-supervisor, I have logged 1000s of hours of training, education and experience working with kids and I am qualified to teach other therapists in the art of play therapy. Through it all, I have learned to trust (and not rush) the process. There are similarities, but the process is unique for every child.
Watch these videos to get a better sense of what play therapy is and how it works.
Introduction to Play Therapy for Parents
Introduction to Play Therapy for Children
Those who play rarely become brittle in the face of stress or lose the healing capacity for humor.
— Stuart Brown, MD