Before Vishal came in for Play therapy sessions, Vishal, a 11 year old, often lied to his parents about school work and stole money. Hi s parents were unable to understand why he did so despite the fact that there were liberal and would never pressurizing him for school work. They tried to correct his behavior by first talking to him, then threatening him with dire consequences and occasionally using the rod, but to no avail. Vishal had, over the months got grumpier and was now not only avoiding school but he even refused to play with friends. The cousellor at school too was unable to bring about any improvements in his behavior, when he was finally referred for play therapy.
Within a few sessions of play therapy, there was marked shift in his demeanor as his willingness to do school work improved and was back to his normal playful self. Infact as Play Therapy continued there was a significant improvement in his academic performance.
How did Play Therapy help him to achieve this? How does Play Therapy Work?
Play Therapy helps to unmask the unconscious motives & feelings which are the primary drivers of the majority of our maladaptive behaviors. These behaviors (which have their roots in the unconscious motives) resist any change brought about by our conscious decisions and bringing them into awareness is the only way to bring about sustainable change.
For example, Vishal’s tendency to lie is his unconscious need to get attention from his parents. Although, consciously he understands that his parents love him and provide him the best, unconsciously he detests the little time he gets to spend with them. His conscious reasoning fights this hurt and anger and it is pushed down into the unconscious. These emotions, although not available to his conscious mind, continue to operate and determine his behaviour.
During play therapy, a child enacts these unconscious conflicts and the therapist helps the child understand them. In Vishal’s case it provided him with the freedom to communicate this need for attention verbally in a healthier manner than his current negative attention seeking ‘acting out’.
Play is one of the primary activities of childhood. Although adults brush it off as a ‘time pass’ activity, it is a very meaningful activity for the child. It is through play that the child learns to explore, understand and develop an array of skills to deal with the social, emotional and physical challenges that are constantly thrown his way in his initial learning years. Play therapy utilizes play, children’s natural medium of expression, to help them express their feelings more easily through toys instead of words. Play therapy is to children what counseling is to adults.Whereas most adults may find relief in talking over problems, children often have difficulty in expressing thoughts and feelings in words, and play can serve as a medium for them to express themselves.
It is common for children to experience occasional problems as they grow and mature. They experience conflicts at home over such issues as toilet training, bedtime and homework. They encounter problems with parents and peers as they attempt to establish a personal identity and practice relating to others. They experience conflict with teachers as academic and behavioral demands increase. As a child is faced with new situations, demands and expectations, it is common for the child to experience emotional ups and downs characterized by feelings of sadness, fear and anger. These reactions tend to be short-lived, however, and usually do not significantly interfere with the child’s life. However, occasionally a child’s response to life’s pressures may become severe, and the parents’ attempts to help their child may be unsuccessful. At times such as these, professional assistance may be warranted.
Psychological treatment may be warranted when a child’s difficulties interfere with normal family functioning, even though the child is not upset by this circumstance. Children may also benefit from psychological treatment when the problems they face are complicated and beyond the range of normal daily experience. For example, children who suffer from serious or life-threatening medical problems, the death of a loved one, an accident, children whose parents are undergoing divorce or families who are shifting to a new city. The psychologist focuses on helping these children develop coping skills to deal with their unique situation and advises parents regarding how best to support their child.
The least common but most serious indication that psychological treatment is needed is when a child’s symptoms are severe or the behavior is extreme and potentially life threatening. This would include situations in which a child is experiencing false auditory or visual sensations, setting fires, assaulting others, or is severely depressed and making remarks about committing suicide.
Parents react in varied ways when faced with the idea that their child needs psychological treatment. Some parents tend to feel guilty and blame themselves for their child’s problem. Other concerned parents may experience confusion or uncertainty regarding their child’s need for treatment. A teacher, for instance, may describe the child as evidencing emotional or behavior problems in the classroom, while the child appears to behave normally at home. Parents who receive this type of feedback often have difficulty reconciling their own perception of their child with those of the teacher.
Most parents can and should attempt to help their child cope with problems before consulting a psychologist. However, as with all areas of life, there are some situations where outside help is warranted. The average parent is not reluctant to consult a physician for their child’s medical needs. In fact, parents who do not obtain appropriate medical care for their children are considered negligent. I believe the informed parent also recognizes when their child may need or benefit from psychological treatment and understands that such intervention is not in any way a sign of parental failure.
Children’s reactions to stressful life circumstances range from mild and short-lived to severe and long lasting. When a child’s problems do not resolve within a reasonable time-frame psychological intervention is recommended. Therapy offers children the opportunity to identify, discuss and understand problems and to develop necessary coping skills. Therapy also provides the opportunity to address parental concerns, educate parents regarding their child’s unique needs, and assist them in meeting these needs in an appropriate, effective fashion. Finally, it is important to recognize that without appropriate and timely treatment a child’s problems may become severe and lead to more serious, long-lasting difficulties.