Play Therapy: Six Recommendations
In counseling children, it's important to have a number of things in your office as children don't know that they are supposed to just sit there and talk about their feelings. Hence, you want to provide opportunity for play that can be used diagnostically. I'm not a certified play therapist but I have counseled countless children and received supervision and training in play therapy, notably sand tray therapy and the use of the Talking Feeling Doing Game. There are other things that I have used as well. Here is a list of my top six helpful ways in getting children to open up about what's going on inside them. 1 - Free play - this is letting the child direct the activity, you need to have various items in your office to allow children to play. I recall one young girl, upon entering my office for free play, kicked me in the shin (she had new cowgirl boots) and within five minutes was hurling every toy in the office at me as I was trying to protect myself. In case you can't figure it out, she was very angry but eventually calmed herself.
2 - Structured play - there all kinds of structured play devices available, I mostly use the Talking, Feeling, Doing Game as I was trained by the developer of the game, Dr Richard Gardner. The Sand Tray is also great.
3 - Magic wand - this has been very helpful, as kids live in a magical world. This is used asking them to take the wand and do what they want to with it while we discuss their life. You find out some very interesting things with a magic wand.
4 - Toy Phone - a pretend cell phone...you and the child pretend someone is on the phone and have a discussion with the person. I recall one young girl who hadn't seen her father in a while having a good (pretend) discussion with her father. That discussion was very diagnostic.
5 - Goofy oversized glasses, masks, hats, etc. When wearing these items, the child can see anything and or say anything about what they are seeing and...be anything or anyone they want. And I get to do the same! I love playing pretend with children.
6 - Puppets...I use a frog for my main puppet because there is no gender, skin color, etc making it a neutral puppet. If you want to see a quick 4 minute video by a friend of mine who is creative and successfully uses puppets in counseling with children, click here for Sancho the Counselor: Puppets and Counseling: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcUstY57qNM
Here is some helpful research:
Bainum, C.R, Schneider, M.F., & Stone, M.H. (2006). An Adlerian Model for Sandtray Therapy, Journal of Individual Psychology, 62(1), 36-46.
Kottman, T., (2001). Adlerian Play Therapy, International Journal of Play Therapy, 10(2), 1-12
Meany-Walen, K.K., Bratton, S.C., & Kottman, T. (2014). Effects of Adlerian Play Therapy on Reducing Students’ Disruptive Behaviors, Journal of Counseling & Development, 92, 47-56
Meany-Walen, K.K., Kottman, T., Bullis, Q., & Taylor, D.D. (2015). Effects of Adlerian Play Therapy on Children’s Externalizing Behavior, Journal of Counseling & Development, 93, 418-423 Note that links were active at the time this post was written and there is no implication that the site linked is the best place to purchase the product. Links are used for illustrative purposes.