Continuing the trend of research on play therapy, once again Play Therapy Daily posed an interesting question about Play Therapy and how the child's work affects the parent's mental health. As referenced in the article there is a lot we can hypothesize, and research supports these theories in terms of examining positive improvements in child treatment aligning with better mental health outcomes. Additionally, child resiliency increases alluding to the cyclical nature of this phenomenon, but how much do we address the negatives?
Kristi Pikiewicz challenges readers in this most recent play therapy blog entry to ask the question, have their been instances when a "child's therapy is stressful for the parent?"
There are several different approaches one could take for this question, answering yes, no, or of course my favorite, it depends. If you continue to see development and growth on a continuum as it actually exists, both progress and step-backs (a natural part of the process) may likely be mirrored in the parent. This tension might be easily observed in the beginning of play therapy when a clinician must inform a parent that things that go on in the session will not be relayed verbatim and only general concerns will be addressed as the come up, with appropriate updates. Therefore, the clinician is placed in the position of developing a particular bond and alliance with the child and that in itself may impact a parent's mental health (whether positively or negatively).
However, a parent is a key part of this process and will and should be included, whether it be in joint play sessions or other methods of inclusion which may depend on the style of the therapist. Nevertheless, one should be aware that the ebbs and flow of the treatment with a child may be mirrored in the parent or a mutual influencing will occur (as the parent is the one who is with the child more often than the clinician is and there is much that goes on that may never enter the playroom or if it does there may not be words for it!) and both negative and positive effects on the mental health of the parent may be seen. Therefore, it is important to monitor all these things and help make these connections in the work.
Recently Play Therapy Daily has launched a series of articles discussing some of the important nuances of Play Therapy that clinicians who use this intervention probably consider, but may not have ongoing discourse about.
One of the challenges of Play Therapy can be making it accessible to children as they get older, and Mark Loewen, LPC, a registered Play Therapist in Richmond, VA highlights this issue as it pertains to preteens in his recent contribution to the blog: 4 Ways to Make Play Therapy Appropriate for Preteens. Mr. Loewen discusses an important issue clinicians face, which is balancing emerging needs for autonomy and identity formation in the face of techniques that to the preteen, may seem beyond their age. As such, it is important to consider as he mentions, how to keep the aspects of play that capture a child's basic "language," continuing to serve as an outlet for emotional and creative expression in a way that remains invaluable throughout the lifetime. We already know, that children who are starved for play, experience various forms of emotional and relational difficulties that last well into adulthood. Therefore, being creative about fostering this and creating safe environments that respect the ongoing development without stifling it, is a precarious balance indeed. One that requires fine tuning and attention.
This fine tuning is often found in the present moment, but the clinician and the client need to "show up" for that. Kristi Pikiewicz addresses this in The Challenge of Present Processing in Play Therapy, lending consideration to staying present with emotions that are actually brought into the room by the child. It is important for us to teach and facilitate expression, but oftentimes remaining present to the play and emerging themes can really help us 'stick with' the present process. "Poking the trauma," as she mentions, is not necessarily the approach all therapists take and in fact can remove the safety from the therapeutic space and re-traumatize a child. Therefore, being present is so important, as our child clients will bring into the room what they will as their expression develops through play and the sense of safety grows. Unfortunately, the system is not always set up to allow us to do that rich work in the amount of time it takes and so we continue to debate how to make the best of shortened sessions and complex traumas.