There is in every child at every stage a new miracle of vigorous unfolding. ~ Erik Erikson
Psychotherapy with children is unique in that much of the time they don’t have a clear understanding of the roots of their behavior. Often, behavioral issues like acting out and defiance, can just be symptoms of children trying to get their needs met. They are still developing emotionally, physically and cognitively and they are testing their environments, trying to figure out where and how they fit in the world. My job is to observe their behavior, often through play, and try to gain some clarity as to what their motivations and needs might be. Once I have an understanding, I help them navigate their situation in the hope of improving it.
Child Therapy and the Development of Emotional Language
Often, children are not taught emotional language; unfortunately, this is especially true for boys in our culture. Without the language, it can be difficult for children to identify their emotional experiences, much less communicate them to others. This frequently leads to situations of frustration, anger, and tears on the part of both children and their parents. I help children and parents develop emotional language, and become comfortable using it with each other. I teach systems of communication that help to break down moments of confusing conflict into smaller, manageable emotional perspectives. This builds greater understanding, and leads to a happier home life for everyone.
Much of child therapy is play therapy. I observe them playing, play with them, focus on themes of play, and emotions. A lot can be learned about a child’s inner world simply by engaging them in play. Sometimes, I’ll let children direct the play and help them gain self-efficacy. Sometimes, I’ll set limits through play and help children practice self-containment. Play therapy is an organic process that varies depending on the individual child and his or her needs.
Art Therapy as Child Therapy
Another way that children express themselves is through art. This can be a way to communicate their emotions when they lack the vocabulary or self-awareness to do so verbally. Much like it is for adults, art can also be a means of catharsis, healing, and a way of externalizing troubles and thoughts.
EMDR as Child Therapy
Children tend to process trauma differently than adults. Symptoms of trauma and abuse in children can look a lot like ADHD, so part of my job is to differentiate between the two. In general, children don’t have as many layers of self-protection built-up as adults, so they can access and move through trauma a bit faster. That said, I take extra care while doing EMDR with children because their lack of understanding could lead to confusion; protecting and promoting their feeling of safety in the therapy room is my number one priority. In general, I have a lighter touch when doing EMDR with children, and use it in conjunction with play and art therapy.
Child therapy can help with:
- Abuse: sexual, physical, & emotional
- PTSD: single incident & complex
- Complex grief: death & loss
- Anxiety & Phobias
- Behavioral issues: aggression, anger management, & defiance
- Self-esteem & social skills
I’ve been working with children in one capacity or another for most of my life, and tend to build trust with them pretty quickly. In the therapy room I create a space of safety and acceptance, where kids can relax and begin to face their fears and anxieties.
The Role of Parents in Child Therapy
Parents are an intrinsic part of child therapy, and I will sometimes call parents in for sessions with or without the child as a means of clarifying therapy goals, planning sessions, reinforcing family structure, and improving communication and understanding.