What is psychodynamic play therapy?
Similar to traditional talk therapy, psychodynamic play therapy is a relationship between a psychotherapist and a child that helps facilitate resolution of the child's difficulties and helps get their progressive development back on track.
Often times, parents feel at a loss when trying to understand why their child is behaving a certain way (e.g., aggressive behavior, "not listening," separation anxiety, moodiness, difficulty with making or keeping friends, fears of being alone, sudden or unexplained avoidance of familiar people or places) and are unsure about what they can do to help them.
Unlike adults whose cognitive development is more developed, children---and especially very young children---do not have the ability to use language to fully make sense of and communicate their inner experience. Additionally, children have a much different understanding of the world and their relationship to important people in it. For example, magical thinking causes children to believe that their angry feelings cause actual harm in the real world, so speaking directly about these feelings can feel very threatening. Hence, play provides some psychological distance. Additionally, young children are typically more "action oriented"---i.e., they express their inner world via their behavior. Therefore, playing out their thoughts, ideas, feelings, wishes, fears and experiences is developmentally appropriate and natural for them.
Lastly, the capacity to play is a developmental achievement in and of itself. Through imaginative play, children are able to access more sophisticated modes of processing. Play is the precursor of adolescent and adult creativity (in all of its forms). Hence, play is serious business.
How about older children--is play therapy appropriate for them? I think my child just needs someone to talk to.
Most parents can think of a time when they were driving in the car and their child, seated behind them, expressed a worry, or asked a question that seemed both "out of the blue" and deeply meaningful. Somehow, the structure of being alone together, and not having to make direct eye contact allowed the child to spontaneously express what s/he was thinking and feeling.
In my experience, some older children and early adolescents benefit from imaginative play, whereas others use games and art activities to create a "riding in the car" experience with me. While playing a game, we can explore the child's feelings, thoughts, worries, and wishes together in a relaxed manner. Also, the pleasure of playing together relieves some of the stress and anxiety associated with exploring difficult topics and feelings. It is my approach to meet a child where s/he is developmentally; therefore, my approach depends on each individual child and how s/he relates to me.
What role do parents typically play in the treatment process?
I believe that it is essential for parents to be involved in their child's treatment, and I view parents as part of the treatment team. Therefore, during the course of treatment, I typically meet with parent(s)/caregiver(s) regularly as part of the overall treatment structure.
Depending upon your child's age and where they are developmentally, that will determine how the initial sessions are structured.
In addition to those listed above, what other issues do you typically treat?
- Grief & loss (parental separation/divorce; death)
- ADHD; symptoms of distractibility, impulsivity, and/or hyperactivity
- Difficulties with emotional regulation
- Attachment related concerns
- Behavioral concerns (e.g., tantrums, "acting out", aggression)
- Adjustment/developmental concerns
- Autism spectrum disorders (formerly referred to as Asperger's Syndrome)
- Parent Guidance