1. Learn about child development
Children are not little adults! As child therapists, sometimes our role involves helping parents to understand that their child’s responses and emotions are normal and expected for their developmental stage. Other times, our role involves helping parents to recognise and understand developmental delays or difficulties their child is experiencing. Always, our role involves gaining an understanding of the developmental stage of each child we see and modifying our therapy approach to fit with where that child is at cognitively, socially and emotionally. Having an understanding of child development and its implications for therapy is essential for us to do this.
2. Commit to working with families (and schools too)
Children are embedded in a family system and also a preschool or school system, and working effectively with children means working effectively with these systems. Children generally come to therapy with parents, and as child therapists, we need to build a good rapport with the parents as well as with the child. For therapy to be effective, children need support to practice and generalise the skills they learn with us, and for that, we need the assistance of the adults in their day-to-day lives. Effective therapy often involves a combination of child, parent and family work, as well as communication with teachers too. Taking a systemic approach like this adds so much complexity to child work. At the same time, it provides us with wonderful resources to assist us in creating positive change for the children we see.
3. Prepare to be playful and creative
Children learn by doing – by exploring, experimenting and experiencing. For children to understand therapeutic concepts, we need to translate them from the traditional, adult-oriented talking therapies into a form that is more concrete and meaningful. We do this using play, art, games and metaphor, using hands-on and creative activities that allow children to engage in therapy. Being playful and creative gives children a means to communicate and learn in therapy. It also makes therapy fun – for children and for therapists!
If you would like to learn more about the practical implications of child development for therapy, how to work well with families and schools, and how to be both playful and purposeful in your therapy approach (including lots of fun, creative therapy activities), please check out our Creative Child Therapy Workshops. We offer an online course, in-person workshops, books, and free resources on our website, that are suitable for new and experienced therapists working with children.
Dr Suzanne Barrett
Creative Child Therapy Workshops