Perhaps play therapy is a new term to you. Or perhaps you’ve never explored family counselling services before. Not to worry – I’m used to answering these types of questions. Below you’ll find answers to some of the most common questions parents ask me when it comes to hiring a child therapist, a family counsellor or parent counsellor.
How many therapy sessions does it take to heal my child?
There is no absolute answer to this. Please remember that every child and their unique situation will require different lengths and measures for the healing process to be complete. For example, child separation anxiety can run really deep if it has been left untreated for a long period. Meanwhile, a recent divorce in the family may be a continuous, revolving door of contradicting, unexplained emotions. And bullying can present its own set of other ‘hidden skeletons.’ The list goes on...
The other thing to know is that often, once one issue has been worked through in child therapy sessions, another one can easily pop up. Children are not a 'fix it and forget it' project, as you know. They are growing, and constantly evolving emotionally, psychologically and physically. This maturing process in itself can present new challenges constantly.
With that all said, you can expect that for a reasonable outcome, the initial ‘package’ of sessions should be around 15-20, regular set appointments. Sometimes, fewer or more sessions are needed. However, you’ll notice positive changes surrounding specific symptoms even after the first few sessions. This is only to give you a general idea, however. It is also an estimate that assumes the child’s environment outside of therapy is conducive to the healing process.
Please also note that the continuity and predictability of these sessions, and maintaining a weekly schedule, is extremely important. Developing new neural pathways in the brain requires repetition to be effective.
I encourage you to take advantage of my free 15-minute therapist’s consultation, which will allow me to better assess your family and child’s situation. I’ll thus be able to give you a more accurate estimate and answer to this question. But estimates are only that - family therapists can’t provide guarantees on the unpredictability of human life!
How do I know if my child needs therapy?
This is a great question. We’ve written a list of common symptoms that would help parents know if their child needs play therapy. Click here to read more.
In general, it can be assumed that if you are already reading this page, you are probably concerned about your child’s wellbeing. You may be wondering if their behaviour is ‘normal’ or not. Your seeking of information is a really positive step. And your parental instinct telling you something is wrong is probably a sign that something is wrong (but don’t get too worried - play therapy is not meant only for ‘extreme’ or ‘lost causes’!).
To give a brief answer, however, you’ll know your child needs therapy when their behaviour becomes abnormal for their age. If they have been toilet trained and are now wetting the bed, then something may not be right. If that, combined with other symptoms such as being afraid to go to school, or using extreme rebellion towards authority are making your daily life worse, it’s probably time to see a therapist.
Remember that all kids participate in some form of misconduct. It’s their job to do so as kids! Kids cry, kids have accidents, and kids don’t always listen to their parents. They’re still learning what this world expects of them.
But if the intolerant behaviour is preventing you or your child from living a normal day-to-day life, that may be a clear sign that something regarding their emotional or mental state needs more thorough attention.
My offer of a free 15-minute consultation may help to answer this more definitively for you. I encourage you to take me up on that offer!
Do I attend the therapy session with my child?
No, not initially, and this is important. The child will need to feel that they are in a secure, private space. They need to learn to open up to their child therapist.
Believe it or not, there are going to be things inside their little minds that they don’t want you to know about. It may be that they have been conditioned to believe you will react in a certain way if you hear them say a certain truth, and thus they’ll want to avoid that reaction. Don’t feel guilty - most kids can sense a need for some privacy from their parents.
It may also be that if you are in the room, they will behave differently than if you are not in the room. It may bring to light some unexplained behaviours, such as things happening at school, or in other environments when you are not around.
However - and this is a big ‘but’ in the process - Sometimes, the progress of your child will need other family members to attend therapy sessions. This is when we can explore filial play therapy or Family therapy. I will be sure to let you know when I feel it is time for these later steps in therapy treatment.
Why won’t you tell me what happens in the play therapy session if I’m not there?
Child therapists understand where you’re coming from: you may feel that since you are the child’s legal guardian, you have the right to know everything about them.
But to do our job effectively, we need to consider how your child feels about you knowing their private thoughts, feelings and actions. Kids are like little adults waiting to become ‘big’ adults. They are persons who deserve to know when they are in a secure place, and who they can trust unconditionally.
So, just like we would guard an adult’s privacy when performing therapy services, we would maintain a child’s privacy too. They are human, individual, unique, and worthy of respect and honour. We believe they should be treated as such.
And so, with that explained, we would never be able to disclose minute details about your child’s play in our therapy sessions. It is our standard of practice.
What we can talk about, however, is how you can work with your child so that they will feel open enough to tell you their inner thoughts and feelings on their own. Also, rest assured that if there are concerns that we feel should be communicated to you in order to help your child, we will be talking.
Can you diagnose my child with a disorder or other medical condition?
Since therapists are not doctors, this form of diagnosis may be out of the realm of what we are trained to do. If you are concerned about, or we sense that there may be autism, or other mental disorders at play with your child’s misconduct, we would typically recommend you get a referral to see a pediatrician or psychiatrist.
What I can help you with, as a child therapist, are the emotional and psychological issues surrounding things like previously undiagnosed learning disabilities. These may cause a child to have felt ostracized or bullied at school for lengthened periods, for example. And that can take a toll on their mental health, which I would recommend we address.
Feel free to take me up on my offer for a no-obligation, no-cost 15-minute consultation. We can discuss these needs, and more, to come up with a plan for therapy and healing for your child.
Will my child need medications in addition to therapy?
Generally, many who practice psychotherapy or play therapy do not follow the model of pathology in response to the healing of emotional struggles. This is not to say that medications are bad, however (sometimes they can be helpful for certain cases or situations). It is merely important to note that medication is only one method for addressing psychological issues. Therapy is another. Some choose to do both, while some choose one or the other.
With my child play therapy services or other family counselling in North Vancouver, I would not be diagnosing ‘labelled’ mental disorders (such as ADHD, OCD, etc.), nor prescribing medication. You are free to see your doctor for referrals about taking these actions, however.
Our approach will be based more on the idea of creating new neural pathways through practices like Synergetic Play Therapy or Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. These methods hold a belief (through studies and documented practice) that an individual has it within them to be able to heal their emotional state internally. That is, as long as their internal emotional struggles are being addressed consistently, and professionally.