Young children often don’t easily discuss their problems using words. Instead, they use play to express and work through their feelings. For this reason, psychotherapy with children most often involves play, and is called ‘play therapy’. Children over the age of about 11 years use play and drawing less in therapy. The focus with older children is more on verbal discussion, perhaps using various games to facilitate the process.
If you take your child to a psychotherapist, there will be an initial process – usually a few weeks – of assessing, formulating and getting an understanding of what the child’s difficulties are in the context of his or her life. The therapist will involve the parents and family in this process, and often the school as well.
Once the therapist has reached an understanding of what the child’s struggles are about and the best way forward, she (or he) will make recommendations to the parents. Sometimes play therapy – or psychotherapy for older children – is recommended, but not always. Often the child can be better served if the parents and therapist meet regularly to discuss the child’s problems and the specific ways in which the parents can engage with these difficulties. Perhaps certain changes in the environment can be made to improve the mental state of the child.
If play therapy is the treatment of choice, the parents should still be part of the process, with regular feedback appointments to discuss how things are going with the child.
Psychotherapy – or play therapy – with children should be regular and consistent. It is usually once or twice a week for a period of time that is long enough to address the problems with which the child presented.