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What questions should I ask my child’s Play Therapist?

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

You’ve made the decision to get your child help, and have chosen Play Therapy. Finding out what to expect from your child's Play therapist and what is expected of you comes next on your to-do list. In this blog, we'll show you how to establish a productive working relationship, establish reasonable expectations, and recognize your responsibility for supporting your child on their Play Therapy journey.

Getting started

The best relationships always start with transparency. We suggest strongly that parents come to the first meeting fully prepared to talk not only about their child’s challenges but also about their background, what they were like before they became concerned, key stressors or events that may have triggered a change, and what the priorities are for your child's treatment.

It is also helpful if parents can explain what they have already tried, what has worked, and what hasn’t. Information from schools can also be valuable, and often your child's Play therapist may ask you questions about your child's performance or behaviour.

Another important aspect is to get clarity on fees, how quickly the Play therapist will return calls or messages, and the types of incidents that merit a heads-up call before an appointment. This housekeeping keeps misunderstandings from happening and ensures everyone is on the same page.

Expectations for treatment

As your child begins their Play Therapy journey, it is normal as a parent to want to know how long treatment will take, and how soon you will start to see progress. It is important to be aware of the factors that affect results and help you form realistic expectations and keep frustration at bay.

You may have heard of the concept of Neuroplasticity. In fact, you may have heard scientists refer to the brain as "plastic". Meaning that it changes in response to social and environmental experiences. This enables us to learn, form relationships with people, and develop new skills. When children experience safe, stable, and supportive environments it can lead to positive changes in the brain.

Your child's brain is made up of three distinct brains. The reptilian brain, the limbic brain, and the thinking brain. The way to think about this is to ask what is each brain doing in your child’s head.

  • Firstly, the reptilian brain is always asking “Am I safe”?

  • Secondly, the limbic brain is always asking “am I loved”? and

  • Lastly, the thinking brain or neocortex is always asking “what can I learn from this?”

As play therapists, we create an environment so your child’s brain can answer those first two questions satisfactorily because if the first two questions are not answered properly then the thinking brain goes offline until the first two questions are fully satisfied.

It is important to keep in mind that those questions don’t get answered instantly. Play is the way your child may put into words their experience. Children need to know they have an impact. That they matter and that they are heard and understood. This is how we start the healing process toward children becoming emotionally regulated.

There is a recommended minimum of twelve sessions for effecting significant and lasting improvement. However, it largely depends on the child's progress as it varies. Every child's response to Play therapy is unique. At the 8th to 10th session, there is usually a review to discuss progress and goals with parents. In my experience, depending on the complexity of the challenges faced by the child, therapy can last beyond 2 years. The most important thing is that the effects of play therapy can last a lifetime when done consistently.

That doesn’t mean all children make progress at the same rate, but it gives you a frame of reference, and it’s appropriate for parents to ask what the estimated time frame is. It’s also appropriate to ask about specific goals for treatment, and how the Play Therapist will measure success.

When you first meet your play therapist, they will do an assessment with your child that lasts for about 45 minutes. During this time, they will gather general information and you should share as much as you can about any challenges, recent changes etc. You will also be asked to fill in a questionnaire. Then you will schedule weekly sessions. Each Play therapy session occurs every week and is generally 45 minutes long.

How quickly your child makes progress will depend on the complexity of their challenges as well as how long the problem has had to take root. A family move, divorce, or traumatic incident can slow things down a lot. Other factors like missed appointments and conflicts between parents over the need for Play therapy can also undermine treatment. One overwhelmingly positive influence is having a supportive and involved family unit.

Parents are pivotal

Even the best Play therapist in the world gets only a snapshot of a child’s behavior and mood 45 minutes a week. To round out the picture, Play therapists usually set time aside for check-ins with mom or dad.

Although parents and Play therapists have a common goal of helping their child get better, it is important to remember that you each see things from a different perspective. Effective communication depends on many variables, including your stress levels, how receptive you are to the Play therapist's input and vice versa, and how well you articulate your concerns.

Here are five parent-tested strategies to help you.

1. Respect your own knowledge.

Although you are the expert on your child, the Play therapist for your child is the expert on therapeutic interventions. More than anyone else, you've spent more time with them over a wider range of contexts. Both that information and your instincts about what is happening are important. Avoid being silent and speak up! The therapist needs to be aware of what you perceive, feel, and believe is going on.

2. Plan what you’ll say ahead of time.

Your fears will be easier to express the more specific you can be with them. Try to concentrate on noticing changes in your child's behavior, mood, and social interactions. Keeping track of the frequency, severity, and length of symptoms can also be helpful. It's acceptable to say to the Play therapist, "I'm not sure what this means, but here's what I've been observing," if perplexing new behaviors start to appear.

3. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help.

Asking your child's Play therapist for help on how to address certain kinds of problems could be a better option than ignoring them. You may start off by saying, "I need assistance with ideas for how to defuse them when...," or "Can you recommend ways to cope with...?" Although the Play therapist might not have a solution for you immediately, if you start the conversation, you can come to a resolution.

4. Be clear and provide details.

It is not uncommon that sometimes a child will present differently in the Play therapist’s office than at home or school. This can create a disconnect between your impression of what’s going on and the Play therapists. Instead of summarizing the week, it is important that you include details so it’s clear exactly what you mean.

5. When you have a difference in opinions.

On occasion, your child’s Play therapist may reach a conclusion you think is off base. Instead of launching into defensive mode, we encourage you to probe for more information. This honors the Play therapist’s expertise. You say things like, “Can you tell me more about why you think that’s what’s happening? I have a very different take on it” or, “Hmmm. what are the other possible explanations?”

What to do about bumps in the road

Every relationship has its rocky moments, and occasionally, rude or harsh remarks are said. The important question is if what was said suggests there is a relationship issue or if this is just a communication hiccup to work through.

Set up a face-to-face meeting to discuss the issue directly. You can say things like ‘When you said ___ I heard ____. Is that what you meant to imply?” Addressing the problem directly is the fastest way to move forward.

It's acceptable to get a second opinion on treatment if, after making an effort to resolve the problem, you still feel dissatisfied with the service provider or your child's development. If you let your child's Play therapist know that you're considering alternative possibilities, it will usually be much easier on the existing relationship.

Do you think your Teen or Child could benefit from therapy? Speak to a qualified Play therapist to learn how your Teen or Child could benefit from play therapy, Click here to get in touch today, or if you want to know if Play Therapy could be suitable for your Teen or Child, click here to take our quiz!

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