1. Emotional health. Mental health. What is the difference?
Emotional health and Mental health are terms used interchangeably, and refers to the emotional/psychological/social/cognitive well-being of human beings. I strongly believe that our overall health is a combination of our emotional, physical and spiritual health.
As a person of eastern Indian heritage, I am aware that the term and concept of mental health counseling is a stigma in my community, and many other communities. To help us truly appreciate the concept, I prefer to bypass the term ‘mental health’ and use the term ‘emotional health’ and ‘emotional well-being’ instead.
2. Does my child need therapy?
We all have many resources that help us with our emotional health: trusted family members, friends, exercise, hobbies, techniques to destress and medical care. At times, it is helpful to seek out a professional for an objective approach to our health and well-being. Just as one chooses a doctor to help address their physical health, one may choose a therapist or a counselor to support their emotional health, or their child’s. A therapist is a specialist in emotional health and provides a confidential and nonjudgmental space for anyone to express themselves freely, work through their life challenges and meet their emotional health goals. Different therapists have different specialities just like doctors, and it is important to find the specialist that will meet your/your child’s needs.
Deciding whether your child can benefit from therapy is a personal choice. There are many factors that inform this decision making process for parents, including time, insurance or out of pocket expense and cultural sensitivity and stigma within community. At some point, you may decide that the many costs of therapy is worth its benefit, which is children’s emotional wellbeing. We all want our children to live a life with confidence and to be free from emotional hardships.
You know your child the best. You know what their normalcy looks like and you will know when seem to be struggling to maintain their normalcy.There are many signs that may indicate that your child may benefit from professional help. These signs may include
sudden difference in behavior: bedwetting, complaints of nightmares, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, social withdrawal, diminished interest in activities they once enjoyed, a sudden drop in academic performance, excessive anger, acting out, misconduct, anxiety around separation from parents, mood swings, physical complaints despite a normal physical exam, self-harm, thoughts about suicide etc.
external events impacting children: family transitions such as adoption, birth/addition of a new sibling, bullying, divorce, death of a loved person/pet, racism, sexism, homophobia, emotional/physical/sexual abuse etc.
struggles around coping with personal circumstances: disability (physical/developmental/learning), health issues, gender/sexuality identity formation etc.
If you notice any of these changes, I invite you to trust your instinct that your child may benefit from professional help.
3. What can Play Therapy do for my child?
Children are seen in play therapy for an array of reasons, such as behavioral issues (caused by bullying, grief and loss, divorce and abandonment, physical and sexual abuse, and crisis and trauma) and for anxiety, depression, anger/aggression, attention deficit/hyperactivity or ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, academic and social impairment, physical and learning disabilities, and conduct disorders.
Play therapy helps children:
Become more responsible for behaviors and develop more successful strategies.
Develop new and creative solutions to problems.
Develop respect and acceptance of self and others.
Learn to experience and express emotion.
Cultivate empathy and respect for thoughts and feelings of others.
Learn new social skills and relational skills with family.
Develop self-efficacy and thus a better assuredness about their abilities.
These benefits often result in decrease of unhealthy symptoms and coping strategies that bring them to play therapy.
4. How long does Play Therapy take to achieve results?
Each play therapy session varies in length but usually last about 30 to 50 minutes. Sessions are usually held weekly. Research suggests that it takes an average of 20 play therapy sessions to resolve the problems of the typical child referred for treatment. Of course, some children may improve much faster while more serious or ongoing problems may take longer to resolve (Carmichael, 2006; Landreth, 2002).
5. Is Play Therapy an evidence-based intervention?
Yes! Research supports the effectiveness of play therapy with children experiencing a wide variety of social, emotional, behavioral, and learning problems, including: children whose problems are related to life stressors, such as divorce, death, relocation, hospitalization, chronic illness, assimilate stressful experiences, physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, and natural disasters (Reddy, Files-Hall, & Schaefer, 2005).
Meta-analytic reviews of over 100 play therapy outcome studies (Bratton et. al., 2005; Leblanc & Ritchie, 2001) have found that the over-all treatment effect of play therapy ranges from moderate to high positive effects. Play therapy has proven equally effective across age, gender, and presenting problem. Additionally, positive treatment effects were found to be greatest when there was a parent actively involved in the child's treatment.
More research studies on play therapy can be found here:
6. How may my family be involved in Play Therapy?
Families play an important role in children's healing processes. The interaction between children's problems and their families is always complex. Sometimes children develop problems as a way of signaling that there is something wrong in the family. Other times the entire family becomes distressed because the child's problems are so disruptive. In all cases, children and families heal faster when they work together.
The play therapist will make some decisions about how and when to involve some or all members of the family in the play therapy. At a minimum, the therapist will want to communicate regularly with the child's caretakers to develop a plan for resolving problems as they are identified and to monitor the progress of the treatment. Other options might include involving a) the parents or caretakers directly in the treatment by modifying how they interact with the child at home and b) the whole family in family play therapy (Guerney, 2000). Whatever the level of involvement of the family members, they typically play an important role in the child's healing (Carey & Schaefer, 1994; Gil & Drewes, 2004).
7. Who practices Play Therapy?
The practice of play therapy requires extensive specialized education, training, and experience. A play therapist is a licensed mental health professional who has earned a Master's or Doctorate degree in a mental health field with considerable general clinical experience and supervision. With advanced, specialized training, experience, and supervision, mental health professionals may also earn the Registered Play Therapist (RPT) or Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor (RPT-S) credentials conferred by the Association for Play Therapy (APT).
I, Priya Raghav, have completed all requirements to become a credentialed Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor and have received significant specialized training and education in play therapy to meet this requirement.
Acknowledgment: Many of the questions on play therapy are adapted from the Association of Play Therapy website.