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Play Therapy

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By Clarice J. Kestenbaum, M.D.
Q: My son, age 10, has been in therapy for about six months to help deal with abandonment issues relating to his biological father as well as the adjustment to his stepfather. I have just returned from another session of play therapy and I am wondering what exactly I am paying for. I understand the concept of working through feelings during play, but at some point a dialogue must begin between child and therapist. Right? I am frustrated and wonder whether another form of therapy would better suit him. Any suggestions?

A: Play therapy is a tried and true psychotherapy for children who experience conflicts in daily life. For example, stress related to death, separation, or divorce can cause a child to experience anxiety or mild depression, resulting in a loss of interest in school or peer relationships. The child usually demonstrates his concerns through doll play, storytelling, drawing, or other means of cultivating a positive relationship with the therapist.

It is very important, in my opinion, for the therapist to involve the family by providing regular feedback sessions. These are not to reveal the child's secret feelings, but to explain the ongoing therapeutic process. I encourage you to meet with the therapist, who should answer all your questions. If you are not satisfied, you can tell the therapist that you would like a consultation with a senior child and adolescent psychiatrist who understands play therapeutic techniques for a second opinion regarding your son's therapy.

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