Processing Feelings with Play Therapy
Emma was just 3 years old when her parents divorced. Sara knew these big changes would have an effect on her daughter, but she had a difficult time talking about it with her. When Emma was 5, she and Sara moved from the small farm town they called home, to Kansas City. With the move, came more change for Emma. She was only able to see her father periodically.
This worried Sara – Emma and her father had a great relationship. After several failed attempts to discuss with her daughter how the move made her feel, Sara decided to seek professional help at The Family Conservancy.
When parents divorce, children can experience an array of strong emotions — sadness, fear, contempt, guilt and anger. While these feelings can be strong for anyone, for young children, who are still developing language skills, sharing these emotions can be especially difficult.
Emma’s therapist, Jennifer, utilized play therapy as a way to help her express her thoughts and feelings about her parents’ divorce. Jennifer noticed Emma was quickly drawn to the dollhouse and various people associated with the house. Emma enacted scenarios with the dolls, often putting them in a car and driving them back and forth while interacting with them. Jennifer realized Emma’s play was obviously connected to what she was experiencing – traveling and being in transition between her parents’ homes and lives. Session after session, Emma would engage in the same type of play. Emma talked to the dolls and had conversations with them, allowing her to process some of her feeling surrounding the divorce. These sessions continued for several months and then Emma began exploring other toys in the playroom and began playing with the dolls and doll house less and less.
Engaging in play therapy allowed Emma to play out the parts of her life which were troublesome to her, without having to put words to her play, which she may not have had.
Jennifer spoke to Emma’s mother about her progress and explained she no longer sees Emma play with dolls the way she had when therapy began. Jennifer explained this indicated progress and Emma no longer appeared to be upset by her parents divorce or going back and forth between two homes.
Children often do not have the vocabulary skills or cognitive development to be able to talk through these thoughts and feelings, however, they are able to express them through their play. Often times these thoughts are subconscious in young children and are expressed through play without the child even knowing consciously that they are working through difficult thoughts, feelings and emotions.
TFC therapists utilize play therapy to meet and respond to the mental health needs of children. Play therapy is acknowledged by experts as an effective and developmentally appropriate intervention in treating children. Play therapy allows therapists to speak to children in a language they understand and are comfortable expressing themselves in — play. TFC has play therapy rooms in both Clinical offices equipped with a variety of toys for children to use to identify emotions.
Learn more about TFC mental health services or schedule a consultation.
Names have been changed to protect confidentiality.