What is it?
Play and Creative Arts Therapy is based on the understanding that children naturally communicate through play. It is designed to work primarily with children aged 3-11, however I am also able to use aspects of this work with teens and adults who find it hard to verbalise what they’re struggling with. For ease of understanding I discuss below how it works with children, but the general principles can be applied to teens and adults as well.
Play and Creative Arts Therapy helps children to understand tricky feelings and upsetting events that they haven’t had the chance to process properly. Rather than having to explain what is troubling them, as adult therapy usually expects, we use play and creative expression so they can express themselves at their own pace, without feeling interrogated or threatened.
Once a therapeutic relationship has been established, the child can express themselves, project, replay, rework and integrate their (conscious and unconscious) experiences of their world within the safety and confidentiality of the sessions. I give them non-judgemental emotional support and they can learn to understand more about their own feelings and thoughts. Sometimes they may re-enact or play out traumatic or difficult life experiences in order to make sense of their past and cope better with their future.
In my training as a Play and Creative Arts Therapist I studied how to use music, sand, art, puppets, doll houses, role play / drama, and various other creative means can be used to enable expression. This helps because if a child doesn’t ‘like’ art then we don’t have to do any – we do whatever they want to do (even if that’s talking).
The outcomes of Play Therapy may be general e.g. a reduction in anxiety and raised self-esteem, or more specific such as a change in behaviour and improved relations with family and friends.
How long does it take?
Some children will respond to a short term intervention (for example up to 12 sessions). However, when problems have persisted for a long time or are complex a longer-term intervention is usually required. In these circumstances they usually need at least a school year (approx. 36 sessions). Sessions are usually once a week and consistency on a regular day and at the same time and place is very important for developing a trusting relationship. Unplanned missed sessions may disrupt the progress.
The therapeutic relationship takes time to build, especially with children who have had negative experiences in the past so understandably find it hard to trust adults. Generally, the time it takes can vary from 7 sessions to 24 to establish a trusting therapeutic relationship.