During child-centered play therapy, the child chooses objects, symbols, or methods of play to express inner concerns. With the help of therapeutic toys and structure from the play therapist, the child is provided an opportunity to play out stories that reveal unconscious thoughts, accumulated tensions, insecurities, and unresolved feelings of aggression, fear and confusion. By playing out these psychological themes, and then receiving new ideas, truths, and coping skills, it is believed that the child can build mastery, self-esteem, and organization to better manage problems (unstead of just reacting to them).
Play therapy is completed by a trained child play therapist who is skilled in interpreting the child’s play. Play by itself will not typically produce change. The therapist’s interventions and utilizations of play are critical. When the child is provided limits, structure and a safe place to work through their feelings and concerns, the child can build new beliefs, thoughts and methods to receive care and address unmet needs. They can learn new emotional regulation, problem-solving, and, communication tools. Bilateral stimulation is also used, when needed to help learn new ideas and cement adaptive ways of thinking.
CBT in its simplest form is broken down into the following concept: what we think affects how we feel and what we do. Throughout therapy, the therapist works to help the child identify thoughts and resultant choices. The therapist introduces new ways of thinking about stressful situations to help the child manage his/her feelings, and then make better choices. Here’s an example. The child says, “ I’m stupid and I can’t learn. I’m not reading any more books for school.” CBT challenges this thought and replaces it with, “I’m good at lots of things. My reading problems can make learning harder, but I’m just as smart as other kids. And there are tools I can use to make reading easier.” With CBT, the therapist and child work together to set goals, identify problems, and check progress. Assignments are given between sessions to build skills. There are a number of techniques therapists use in CBT. One is called modeling. Here, the therapist demonstrates the desired behavior (e.g standing up to a bully). Another technique is called cognitive restructuring. This is an approach where the child learns to recognize and replace negative thoughts. For instance, they might turn “I stink at math” into “Some parts of math are hard for me. But there are many others I can do.”