My work is rooted in play, and grounded in the belief that I need to trust the process as I work with children. Children come into my office with the freedom to explore, play, imagine, build and pretend. They can choose to talk or remain quiet, giggle or cry, yell or whisper. My office becomes their space.
Imagine trying to justify a session to a parent where a child decided to remain quiet, not answer any questions and play by his or herself?
I get stuck sometimes, feeling like I need to justify that session, but it’s no different than any other session. I need to remain open to the process that is playing out before me and remain curious and aware that for some reason, something is causing this child to need a quiet space or a private time to play and I have the opportunity to extend acceptance, warmth, validation and meet that child where they are at, in that moment.
On occasion I will ‘prepare’ an activity or have certain toys set out before a child comes to his or her appointment. More often than not, these are the sessions which leave me feeling frustrated or confused, until I remember that I didn’t trust the process.
As a therapist, if I try and control a session or set goals ahead of time, I am serving my own needs and working toward my own hypothesise rather than being present and attuned to my clients. This work is not about me, and no session should be about outcome or results – especially in working with children.
But – how can I explain that to the parents paying the bills?
The author of Play Therapy (1947), and the woman largely responsible for bringing the concept and the power of ‘play therapy’ was Virginia Axline. She wrote that child centered play therapy focused on the child, no on the child’s presenting problem. She promoted a therapeutic relationship based on genuineness, authenticity, unconditional positive regard, acceptance and empathic understanding of the client in order to support psychological development and growth.
For children, toys are their words, and play is their conversation. ~ Schaefer, 2002
Observing a child at play, with years of research, hours of clinical practice and copious amounts of specialized training informing my observation, is more than just watching a child play. I have spent a lifetime dedicated to creating the lens through which I observe children play.
Sometimes sessions are quiet. Sometimes sessions are filled with cartwheels, building, drawing or puppets. Regardless, sessions are always filled with something of value to each child.
Axline, V. (1947). Play Therapy. New York: Ballantine Books
Hall, T., Kaduson, H., and Schaefer, C. (2002). Fifteen Effective Play Therapy Techniques. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. 6 (33). pp. 515-522.