Play Therapist - Building Stronger Relationships Through Play
Attachment-Focused Play Therapy

When working with younger (both chronologically and mentally) children, I use Attachment-Focused Play Therapy.  There are three goals in using this play therapy.  These three goals include:  strengthening the parent-child relationship, helping the child to develop a more positive self/world view, and working through any issues the child may have.  When using this form of therapy, I conduct an assessment.  This assessment involves the parent and child by themselves.  I video record the session.  The parent receives a set of cards with 6 to 7 tasks for the parent and child to complete.  I then look at the session.  I look at how the parent and child respond to direction, nurturing, how involved each individual is, and how each responds to difficult or challenging situations.  Then based upon this assessment, I would play various games and do various activities to assist in the parent and child's relationship.

I use Attachment-Focused Play Therapy for a variety of children's issues, to include:  ADD and ADHD, anger management, development of more effective coping skills, anxiety, RAD, PTSD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, stress, depression, children on the autism spectrum, and fetal alcohol syndrome.  I tend to use the type of therapy in conjunction with Rhythmic Movement Therapy.

Strengthening the Parent-Child Relationship

One aspect of attachment-focused play therapy is to have your child cooperate with you because he/she wants to please you, as opposed to fearing you.  It is very easy to get caught up in our lives.  Sometimes it can feel like we have so much to do that we hardly have anytime for ourselves.  But it is important to remember that children develop in the context of a relationship.  Their brains develop neural connections in response to their experiences form this relationship.  The quality of the relationship between the parent and the child matters the most.  It is through this relationship that helps the child to develop various parts (e.g., social, emotional, cognitive, etc.) of themselves and organize themselves in a "self."

While engaging in attachment-focused play therapy, the focus is on the relationship and having fun.  It's not about discussing/rehashing what took place during the previous week.  And, it does not involve much correcting of the child.
As the counselor, I will come up with activities to do during the session based on the assessment.

Helping the Child Develop a More Positive Self/World View

A "world view" is an internal model of how we see and interact with the rest of the world.  A basic example would be a parent who is always playing ticks on their child.  The child may start to question the motives and become suspicious of people.  With many of these types of interactions, the child would begin to internalize this message.  This message would then guide the child on how to interact with the world.

Many children who have been abused or neglected have a view of themselves as "less than" and a world view that adults can't be trusted.

Therefore, another goal of Attachment-Focused Play Therapy is for me, as the counselor to accept the child, regardless of the child's behavior.  I want to impart to the child that I will take care of things and that he or she is a worthwhile person to play with.  It is important for parents to continue this type of play at home.  As infants, we get thousands of these types of interactions, a one hour therapy session will be just a drop in the bucket without the assistance of the parents.

Working Through Issues

Through the use of play, a child's issues can be worked through.  Based on the Attachment-Focused Play Therapy assessment, I will determine what the parent-child relationship needs help with.  for example, if a child has difficulty with directions, I would plan activities for the therapy session with a lot of direction.  So, the point is to "trigger" the child so that he or she starts "acting out" their issue.  It is during this "acting out" that I, as a counselor, would help the child work through the issue.

What I mean by "working through" an issue is that we discuss what is going on, how the child may feel about it, or I might divert their attention to something else.

For example, a child with oppositional defiant disorder would generally have difficulty with following directions.  So, the counselor will have a series of playful activities that would involve directions.  A child with oppositional defiant disorder will tell the counselor, "No," or will start doing an activity how he or she wants without regard to the directions given.  It is at this point, I stop the activity and assist the client with the issue.  

I might say something like, "Oh, it feels so sad and terrible when you don't get your way.  It might even feel like it is unfair and that I don't like you."  There generally is a reason a child is engaging in a particular behavior and my job, as a counselor, along with the parent, is to figure out the reason and meet the child's need in a more helpful way.