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What to Expect at Play Therapy

If your child is struggling with a mental, emotional, or behavioral health issue, you know all too well how difficult it is to get to the bottom of the problem. Children, especially young children, lack the words they need to communicate effectively, which can severely limit how you can approach and solve the problem, leaving you both frustrated. Thankfully, there’s a way that we can open the lines of communication through play therapy.

Our team here at Southlake Counseling, under the guidance of Kimberly Krueger, MSW, LCSW, understands the challenges that come with addressing mental health and behavioral issues in children, which is why we’re pleased to offer play therapy.

In the following, we explore the broader picture of mental health in children, how play therapy can play a role, and what to expect during play therapy. 

Children and mental health

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of play therapy, let’s take a look at some of the numbers surrounding the mental health of children in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and depression are the most common mental health disorders in children.

Breaking the numbers down, the CDC found that:

While these numbers paint standalone pictures, the problems often collide. For example, of those children with depression, nearly three-quarters also have anxiety and nearly half display behavioral problems.

We can go on with these statistics, but our goal here is to simply emphasize that children are not immune to mental health issues. How we approach the problem, however, looks far different than it does in adults.

A child at play

Play is one of the first ways children learn to communicate and interact with the world, so it makes sense to turn to play to diagnose and treat your child.

Through play, we can learn a lot about your child and where they may be struggling, which helps us design an appropriate play therapy plan. For example, if your child is unable to solve a problem and acts out, we learn more about their ability to regulate their emotional and behavioral health. From there, we can direct the play to help your child better manage their reactions and behaviors.

What to expect during play therapy

As we mentioned, we use play therapy as both a diagnostic tool and a treatment tool, so each session may look a little different. During the first few sessions, it’s likely that our experts spend a fair amount of time observing your child at play to gain a better understanding of their issues.

Once we have a clearer picture, we may then direct the play more to show them how to better express themselves or to point them toward the tools they need to problem-solve.

In some cases, we may combine play therapy with dialectical behavior therapy for better skill development to manage stress and emotions.

Each session typically lasts 30-45 minutes, and we conduct our play therapy sessions in a devoted space that’s equipped with the tools we need to encourage certain types of play. 

It’s important to understand that no two play therapy sessions are alike. We tailor each session to your child’s needs, and we make any necessary adjustments along the way to encourage your child to develop better coping and regulation skills.

If you have more questions about what you and your child can expect during play therapy, please contact us at one of our offices in Charlotte, Hickory, or Davidson, North Carolina, to set up a consultation today.

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