"In order to understand the complexities of their feelings during a divorce, a child needs to be able to express them in their own way."
For children of divorce, expressing one’s self can be a difficult concept. For them, there is a lot of emotional baggage to wade through that it becomes difficult for them to focus on themselves and their development. Parents often attempt to reach a child through therapeutic means, such as play therapy.
What is play therapy?
According to the Association for Play Therapy, play therapy is the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.
Play therapy allows the child to “play out” his or her feelings and problems, just as, in certain types of adult therapy, an individual “talks out” their difficulties, according to Virginia Mae Axline’s “Play Therapy: The Inner Dynamics of Childhood.” This concept is building on the natural way that children learn about themselves and their relationships in the world around them.
The misbehavior issues associated with children who are or have already experienced a divorce are frequently referred to play therapy, in order to equip them with the tools necessary to resolve their problems and cope with the new changes in their lives. It also can help assess the extent of the damage that the divorce experience has impacted the child and change the way they think about their own concerns of their parents’ divorce.
According to the Play Therapy Institute of Colorado, some of the determining factors that play therapists take into account before assessing a child of divorce is their age, gender, development, pre-existing problems, number of life-related transitions, quality of the parent-child relationship, and resulting symptoms stemming from the divorce.
The Institute also suggests that there are a variety of symptoms that would improve with play therapy. Those symptoms include a decrease in the child’s self-esteem, a decrease in the child’s psychological adjustment, a decrease in the child’s academic achievement, a decrease in the child’s conduct, and a decrease in the child’s social competence.
Teaching play therapy
Play therapy is taught in a variety of forms. Healing Transitions: Creative Counseling for Children and Families Inc. is a company that not only holds clinical playrooms where supervised therapists acquire their licenses and registered play therapist designations, but also holds national conferences where they discuss healing rituals, transitional therapy, and early brain development.
The Association for Play Therapy also holds an annual national conference, where psychologists, social workers, family therapists, counselors, and other mental health professionals gather together and propose workshops related to the field of play therapy.
Synergetic Play Therapy
The Play Therapy Institute of Colorado also incorporates Synergetic Play Therapy, based on synergetics, the empirical study of systems in transformation, with an emphasis on total system behavior unpredicted by the behavior of any isolated component.
Synergetic Play Therapy is designed to repattern the disorganization in the lower brain centers, areas that are often unaddressed in many current play therapy models. This form of play therapy is considered new and cutting edge, by therapy standards, due to its research-based model blending together neuroscience, attachment to self, therapist authenticity, brain development, affect attunement, physics, emotional congruence, nervous system regulation, and the projective process.
This method promotes a therapeutic experience for both the child of divorce experiencing it and the therapist themselves. In order to become a Synergetic Play Therapist, there is a six-day intensive several times a year . For parents looking for a Synergetic Play Therapist, there are several throughout the country.
Parent and child
For parents enlisting their children in play therapy, there is a present expectation to be present in your child’s life during this experience. Despite how difficult it may be, it’s important for both parents to be as present as possible during the course of play therapy. It’s not something that is going to fix their problems or issues overnight, but it is something that allows your child to know that despite no longer being together, their parents care a great deal about their well-being.
Play therapy allows the parents to study their child’s play patterns and understand their reactions and emotions. In Garry Landreth’s “The Art of the Relationship,” he says that toys are a child’s words and the concept of play is their language. In order to understand the complexities of their feelings during a divorce, a child needs to be able to express them in their own way.
Unless an experience or conditions are extremely bad, they are generally accepting of life as they find it, and while the circumstances of a divorce are not the most pleasant and can often be difficult for a child to swallow, they initially learn to adjust to the world around them and continue their development, according to Axline.
Play therapy allows them to recapture that level of development that may have been delayed through the physical and emotional difficulty of divorce. Allowing the child to express themselves through their own form of self-expression lets them open up and handle the difficult emotions of their parents’ situation.