What is EXPERIENTIAL PLAY THERAPY?
Byron and Carol Norton, from Greeley Colorado developed Experiential Play therapy from years of research. They offer trainings and consultation groups, which I have participated in.
Play is the natural language of children. Thus, play is a natural way for children to engage in the therapy experience.
When adults have struggles, they can access higher level thinking to be aware of their concerns, as well as, verbalizing their thoughts and feelings to another person. This could be a close friend, their partner, or a talk-oriented therapist.
Children tend to lack the cognitive capacity to both have awareness of their true inner concerns and struggles, as well as struggling to find the words to express those concerns. This is why traditional talk-therapy can be difficult for children and you receive "I am fine" responses quite often.
This is where the power of PLAY comes so naturally for children. They play every day anyway, so it is familiar to them. When they encounter an adult who understands the deeper metaphor of their play, MAGIC can happen.
How does Experiential Play Therapy work?
Within the Play Room, each child will be able to become the creator of his/her own experience. They will lead the play and I will follow them, become a part of their play, and interpret back to them what I am understanding of their experience. Using toys, they will experience the feelings that are of concern to them (fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, etc), and express them in a format that they can control, lead, conquer, and change.
A child's IMAGINITIVE/FANTASY PLAY creates a way for them to use a "defense mechanism" to protect from the anxiety they feel when a sense of self has been disrupted or threatened.
The belief of Experiential Play Therapy is that the CHILD is the EXPERT of his/her own pain. Thus they know how to best approach it and at their own pace. They can reenact scenarios to gain mastery in ways they couldn't in the past. As the therapist, I JOIN the child. They use the power of the metaphor to show me how it feels to be them (powerless, fearful, angry, ineffective, insignificant, or apprehensive). The CHILD holds the POWER! The play process focuses on providing dignity and empowerment to the child, so they can heal.
Would MY CHILD benefit from Experiential Play Therapy?
If your child is presenting with these symptoms, Experiential Play Therapy has been known to be very helpful:
* Behavior Problems
* Defiance and Arguing
* Sibling &/or Peer Social Difficulties
* Academic Concerns & Learning Disabilities
* Separation from parents (divorce, foster care, adoption)
* Attention Deficit Disorders
* Bullying (victim or aggressor)
* Reactive Attachment Disorder
* Physical, Sexual, or Emotional Abuse
* Domestic Violent
* Grief and Loss
* Identity Concerns
* Autism, sensory processing, or other developmental concerns (if they are capable of engaging in imaginative/fantasy play)
* Selective Mutism
The biggest question you can ask about whether this will help your child, is to ask yourself if you believe your child has HOPE. I am an eternal HOPE FILLER and believe in the power of healing - no matter your age. So, if you can believe your child can heal - give me a call. We can work together to help your child resolve their struggles and symptoms.
What happens during Experiential Play Therapy?
Experiential Play Therapy is based on 3 Major Principals:
1. The CAPACITY of the child to use play, symbolism, & metaphorical expressions to convey their internal world and expressions.
2. The THERAPISTS SKILL to understanding and relaying the child's expressions back to the child.
3. The PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT & RESPONSIBILITY to learn and engage in the process of the CHILD.
Experiential Play Therapy consists of 5 Stages:
1. Exploratory Stage
During this first stage, the child becomes familiar with the therapist, toys, play room, and time together. The child will lead and the therapist will use observational statements. Parents will notice a quick improvement in your child's symptoms, which is a positive sign for potential for change.
2. Testing for Protection Stage
During this second stage, the child will be testing the therapists trustworthiness and safety. We are establishing a relationship. The therapist will reflect and validate feelings, as well as set appropriate boundaries. Parents will notice a regression or disruption of child's behavior during this stage; which is the beginning process of healing.
3. Dependency Stage
This third stage is the most important part of EPT, it is where the child will face the emotional turmoil and work through it together. There are 2 sub-stages where in the first the child asks the therapist to join them in their sharing of their inner experiences and world and in the second the child will move to lifting off the pain of their past by facing the "fear object or perpetrator" of their anxiety. The child will be able to accomplish what they could not do in reality; showing a stance of empowerment towards the situation and person. The therapist will engage with the child to create this scenario, keeping the child and therapist safe during this process. The therapist will take on the role and model reactions from the child's age and developmental stage (making sounds, using words, actions, behaviors, etc). Through this process the child will feel empowered, in control, and have a "spiritual victory" over the fear object, trauma, or challenge. This stage ends with annihilation or death of the fear object. Parents can expect regression and disruption of child's behavior during this stage, as they are doing hard work and trying to heal.
4. Therapeutic Growth Stage
During this stage, the child will grieve the loss of the "trauma persona" through a display of flattened affect and regress to exploratory play stage (stage 1). This stage is very important for the child to work on skill mastery, to re-experience lost developmental stages, and move to age-appropriate mastery, silliness, and laughter. The child will not depend on the therapist as much and instead the play becomes more interactive and cooperative.
5. Termination Stage
During this stage, the child is losing a significant relationship while also having learned they can trust in other adult relationships to meet their needs. The therapist will reflect on the importance of their relationship, while also reassuring them of their ability to move forward without the therapist.
Parental Involvement in Experiential Play Therapy:
Parents are as vital as the therapist in the EPT healing process. YES - JUST AS IMPORTANT!!!! WE NEED YOU!
We will meet every session at the end, for 10-15 minutes, to discuss themes in your child's play, explore concerns you have from the previous week, and compassionately problem solve ways for you to support your child during their healing process.
You are so important because as your child does their work in our session, they are home with you more than the time I have with them each week. During my work with your child, they are going into DEEP PAIN and I can contain them during my time, but I NEED YOU to do the rest at home.
What will you do exactly? As your child regresses back to the stage of development where they experienced the stressor that created the symptoms they have come to therapy for, they need you to meet them AT THAT AGE & STAGE OF DEVELOPMENT. Yes, your child might be 8-years old, but during therapy they also become that 4-year old or newborn that experienced stress far too big for him/her to process. They will need you to nurture that younger part of them (hold them, rock them, use shorter words/sentences, manage temper tantrums, etc).
As you meet them in the regressed stage, they need you to help them feel SAFE, SECURE, and SUPPORTED. HEATHER FORBES is a guru on explaining exactly how to do this, and I too know how to coach you in this process.
The bottom line though is that YOU ARE IMPORTANT!!!! Yes - you! Just as important as I AM in your child's healing. I look forward to us becoming a TEAM for your CHILD!