Child Therapy

How Does Child Therapy Work and is it Effective?

What is Child Therapy? 

Children do not yet have the ability to possess the complete spectrum of verbal skills to be able to communicate their difficulties or needs. It is for this reason that therapy with children is more optimal when it is sensitive to the child’s developmental stage and is fun, soothing, indirect and nonthreatening. Many children and teenagers struggle with challenges that impact how they feel, behave, and even learn. Parents, caretakers, or guardians can take them to therapy to help them work out these problems and learn how to cope better.

How Does Child Therapy Work?

Child therapists use different methods to treat their clients. Treatment depends on the presenting complaint. At Erika Nell Clinical Psychology, I use play therapy and teddy bear therapy to address the behavioural, psychological, and social difficulties that children tend to present with.

My approach is holistic and family-oriented, which entails involving mom, dad and/or other relevant caretakers to lend a helping hand in the process of assisting the child. My working method dictates that I see the primary care taker/s for a first session in order to gain a full picture of the child’s functioning so as to choose the best route in dealing with the presenting complaint and obtain optimal results.

We can help children and parents with strategies and ways of dealing with psychological, environmental, developmental and interpersonal distress.

What is Play Therapy? 

Trained child therapists can observe and engage in playtime to discover child needs and unexpressed experiences. Play therapy is utilised to learn about your child’s psychological state in a non-intrusive, fun, and age-appropriate manner.

Play therapy helps children identify needs, emotions, and behaviours in themselves. A trained therapist can also then use play therapy to help children discover ways to deal with presenting complaints. Children can learn how to redirect destructive or inappropriate behaviours or simply how to better cope with distressing emotions.

What is Teddy Bear Therapy?

Teddy Bear therapy is a form of narrative play that originated in play therapy. It combines Gardner’s storytelling technique with fantasy play. A therapist uses a teddy bear to tell the bear’s story to the child. The bear happens to be facing similar challenges to the child.

The child can explore their emotions and challenges in a non-threatening way by expressing their thoughts and feelings through the teddy bear’s experiences and thoughts. They can explore changes to the teddy bear, its relationships, and even traumatic experiences to find solutions for the teddy bear (and child’s) problem.

What Happens in a Therapy Session?

At Erika Nell, I believe in a family-oriented and holistic approach. My working method dictates that I see the primary care taker/s for a first session in order to gain a full picture of the child’s functioning so as to choose the best route in dealing with the presenting complaint and obtain optimal results. I will ask questions and may ask you to fill in question forms. This is so I can learn more about your child and their challenges to ensure an adequate tailor-made approach to their specific situation. After this, your child usually attends a therapy session to weave together the child’s presentation, the guardian’s concern and the dynamics maintaining these.

Children typically attend sessions alone, but if indicated, I get parents involved in therapy. My holistic and family-oriented approach entails involving mom, dad and/or other relevant caretakers to lend a helping hand in the process of assisting the child. Sessions can include activities and discussions. Where appropriate, the child can learn to talk about how they feel, and having someone listen can help children feel more ready to learn. Play activities or other mindfulness tools can be included in therapy, like breathing exercises.

Games can teach kids things like self-control by having to wait their turn, for example. Older children talk over how to solve problems at home and at school through discussion.

Is Child Therapy Effective?

Play therapy and Teddy bear therapy have been shown to bring significant progress in children.

Not every type of therapy is appropriate for every child. Play– and Teddy-bear- therapy, however, can be used in most children to discover, diagnose, and treat presenting complaints.

Does My Child Need Therapy?

It can be hard to figure out if your child is just going through a rough patch or if they need therapy. Emotional fluctuations are normal, and children’s moods are impacted by events like lower marks at school or arguments with friends. You can use the below list to gauge whether your child needs therapy. Often, you can also take them for an assessment to determine whether they need further help.

Ten Signs that Your Child May Need Therapy 

  1. Regression or Developmental Delays.

    A child may not be meeting milestones along with their peers. A child with well-developed speech, for example, may suddenly use baby talk or stop talking altogether.

  2. Significant Changes in Sleep and Eating Habits.

    A child may suddenly develop nightmares or stop wanting to eat dinner. Although these can be common behaviours, they can also sometimes point to deeper concerns that require therapy.

  3. Increased Complaints About Physical Health.

    Physical complaints (e.g. my tummy hurts, my foot is sore, I have headaches) can sometimes be a child’s way of expressing that something is wrong when they struggle to put the issue into words.

  4. Struggles in Various Parts of Life (Family, Academics, Sport, Learning, Socialisation, Friends).

    When difficulties arise in significant areas, it can be a sign that your child may need help or is dealing with a deeper issue that isn’t being resolved.

  5. Changes in Self-Confidence (feels bad about themselves a lot more).

    These can point to bullying, physical abuse, other traumatic events, or even changes in mental health that may require further attention. Or, at the least, your child may need help with ways to cope better.

  6. Withdrawing from Loved Ones (Family and Friends).

    Withdrawing from loved ones can point to several challenges. A professional can assess the situation and help your child process or overcome these problems.

  7. Increases in Undesirable or Destructive Behaviours.

    Although undesirable or destructive behaviours may occur from time to time in any child, look at the severity of the behaviour and whether it is age-appropriate. Also, consider frequency and duration. If the behaviours are escalating, your child may need therapeutic intervention.

  8. Engages in Self-Harm or Repetitive Self-Destructive Behaviours.

    Self-harm is a clear cry for help. If you notice your child committing any forms of self-harm, they may need therapy. Similarly, self-destructive talk (No one likes me) and behaviour are often crying for help.

  9. Persistent Sadness, Anger, or Nervousness.

    Everyone gets sad from time to time, but when a child is persistently sad, it means they may need therapy. The same goes for frequent anger or aggression, which can point to unresolved emotional issues or even disorders such as ADHD.

  10. Talks About Suicide or Death.

    Finally, if your child talks about death or suicide, it’s time to call your psychologist. Even though mentions on the topic may be casual, a lot of dark emotion can be buried underneath. Don’t wait until it’s too late to get them the help they need. Also pay attention to indirect comments like, “I wish I wasn’t here.”

Looking for a clinical psychologist near you or in Pretoria East? Contact Erika Nell Clinical Psychology today for an appointment in Pretoria. Erika Nell is a qualified independent Clinical Psychologist registered at the Health Professionals Council of South Africa.

Sources: health.clevelandclinic.org; kidshealth.org;