What is play therapy? What are the benefits of play therapy and the signs in children that it might be needed? Erlese discusses how she found her passion for play therapy. She continues with how play therapy can be helpful and signs to recognize in your child that therapy might be needed.
Why Choose Play Therapy?
By: Erlese Caruth, MA, LPC, NCC
I am always amazed when unexpected events develop in ways that often give us clues regarding important choices in our lives such as school, career decisions, relationships, or in other areas.. That unexpected moment for me began in college. I received an assignment to read a book called Dibs in Search of Self, by Virginia Axline.
At the time, I was convinced that I was going to be a fabulous dancer and travel the world. I elbowed my friend in laughter when we received the assignment because we were convinced the professor had no clue. Little did I know, this was the start of my love for PLAY. Do you remember thinking that you had it all figured out?
I had three opportunities to sit with this book, and never imagined it would have brought me to this point. As I turned the pages of the book for the first time, I couldn’t help but fall in love with Dibs, the main character. I was in my first year of college and I was not excited about required reading. My first impression of the book was that of a novice. I was moved simply and only by the strength and courage of a boy who was imprisoned by his fear, anger and sadness.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the book, it folds out as a one-on-one session with a therapist and a young boy who refrained from speaking for years as a defense mechanism against his unavailable, cold and demanding mother. Based on the author’s description of Dibs, he fits the criteria for Asperger’s, a syndrome on the autism spectrum. He presented as a highly intelligent boy who was capable of complex thinking, but had challenges with basic social and communication skills with his peers, teachers and his family.
I was presented with the opportunity for a second time to read the book during the first year of my graduate program. This was a time of uncertainty and fears, as dance as you can imagine was no longer an option, and I was embarking on a new career path.When I read the book again, it was with a solid understanding of therapy and a heightened awareness of play therapy. Reading the book again allowed me to appreciate the language of play and the tools that are used in the play therapy room.
As fate would have it, the book was offered to me for a third time as a suggested reading by a supervisor, as I prepared for licensure. This time I went in with the full understanding and knowledge of Dibs’ history, his presenting behaviors and some prior knowledge of play therapy. I approached the story of Dibs, not as a novice, but as a therapist seeking to fill her tool bag. This book presented me with the opportunity to sit with the foremost authority on play therapy as she uncovered the complexities of a child struggling to establish his identity despite his mother’s damaging style of parenting.
Many of you are wondering if this is right for you as a therapist, school counselor, or parent. You may have noticed some anger at home, anxiety at school, or concerns from parents regarding recent behaviors. As a parent and a therapist, I chose play therapy because it acts as a vehicle that allows the passenger to journey through insecurities, fears, anger and sadness all in the playroom. Imagine the vehicle coming to a stop, and the child emerging stronger, more confident, and able to face the challenges that await him or her. As I engage daily in the process of play therapy and recall the messages of the book, I am able to conceptualize presenting behaviors and see the progress unfold through the process of play therapy.
When I read the book for the first time, I remember being surprised that Dibs had become a confident, self assured young man who was able to sufficiently express and manage his feelings. As a therapist today, I have the great opportunity to sit with my own clients as they journey through the challenges of their lives. The process is facilitated through a safe, warm and supportive environment that allows children to engage at their own pace, and emerge stronger than they entered. More than the power of play therapy, I am always wonderfully surprised at the amazing strength of my clients and their courage to be exactly who they want to be. It is my hope that through this journey, we will all arrive at a place we can be proud of.
Play therapy was certainly not a straight path for me, but with those unexpected moments throughout my career, I could not ignore the opportunity to PLAY.
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