Let Children Color Their Perception of Therapy

You've made the first step and made an appointment with a child/adolescent counselor. You may have showed up a little apprehensively to the initial intake appointment with the counselor/therapist. After you realize the counselor wants to support your efforts as a parent (you are, after all, the primary influence over your child's life) and the counselor "hears you out," it occurs to you that you have to think of a way to tell your child he/she is going to therapy. In fact, let's just cut out the word "therapy." Add "fix your problems," "bad feelings," "disobeying" to the list of What Not to Say. "Ideally, it is best if the child is allowed to develop their own impressions of the therapist and what therapy is all about from actual experiences in the playroom" (Killough McGuire, D. and McGuire, D, 2001. Linking Parents to Play Therapy. NC: Taylor and Francis). We hope our name, The Playroom, provides a sense of comfort and familiarity for your child so that he feels safe and free to form his own impressions.


So How do You say It?

McGuire and McGuire in their book Linking Parents to Play Therapy suggest parents tell their child (depending on developmental level) something like this: "This is a time for you to play in a room full of toys and things you like to do with someone who really cares about you" (p. 16). As necessary, the therapist can also provide further information to the child. Another way to phrase this for an older child would be:

It’s a safe place to find support and an unbiased adult to listen.
— Kate Leyva, LMFT Contributing to Tartakovsky, M. (2015). Common Things Parents Say to Their Kids About Therapy That Aren't Helpful. Psych Central.com

Communicate with Feeling Words

When your child comes out of a session reflect his/her emotion. "You're really excited coming out of there." "You seem to feel quiet." "You're feeling ready to go!" You can also respond with a feeling to any questions they may have: "You're curious that_____." "You're wondering if ______."

Communicating about their Art/Creations

At times your child may bring home something he/she created. It is important to view their creation from their therapy session as a page out of a journal. It can be very private and emotional. Be mindful that your child may choose not to talk about it. If your child is eager to show you (and quite honestly you may have no idea what you are looking at), you can say "Tell me more about that." You can focus on details of what he or she did: "You put those colors right there." "Looks like you spent a lot of time on that." "You drew this here and that over there." Or if a child asks you if you like it, you can respond with, "What's important is if you like it. What do you think about it?"

Communicate with Nonverbals

Dr. Kay Sudekum Trotter, PhD, LPC-S, suggests that when you stay in the waiting room instead of running errands during a session, you nonverbally communicate that "you're so important to me that I will be here the whole time supporting you." (Tartakovsky, M. (2015) Common Things Parents Say to Their Kids about Therapy that Aren't Helpful. Retrieved from PsychCentral.com)

Communicate Privately with the Therapist

It is important to be mindful of little listening ears. Talking about your child's progress or lack there of, or more specifically the problems you want to see addressed, in front of the child, may lead to feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment, and shame.

What NOT to Communicate:

The following list of common comments that parents make may isolate your child or negatively color their perception of therapy or the therapist.

The therapist is going to help you with your problems. You need help”
”We can’t help you anymore because your problems are too big.”
”We have to go to therapy because your dad or mom left us.”
”You need to go to therapy because since the divorce you have been really emotional and difficult to deal with.”
”Your therapist is going to be so disappointed in you for doing___”
Speaking to therapist: “Maybe you can help _____with learning how to better control his emotions when he doesn’t get his way.
— Tartakovsky, M. (2015). Common Things Parents Say to Their Kids about Therapy that Aren't Helpful. Retrieved from PsychCentral.com


In Conclusion

Parents are very well meaning in their communication with kids. Hopefully these suggestions provide another perspective about how your words can and should encourage your child and therapeutic play.


Teenagers, Pit Stops, and Play Therapy

"Developmentally, the process where we travel from a world where we do not have to think about who we are or what we do (childhood) toward a destination where we must have the confidence that we can not only survive but also thrive in the multiple relationships and expectations of adult society....[Adolescence is] the overall task of moving out of childhood and preparing to engage in mainstream society as a peer with other adults." Chap Clark, D. Clark (2007). Disconnected Parenting: Teens in a MySpace World.

What a task and a road ahead for a teenager!  This road consisting of life events and experiences coupled with experiences of the past and paired with expectations and possibly fears of the future significantly affects adolescents. The emotional, physical, and hormonal changes of adolescents will alter the headlights of that adolescent vehicle and impact a teenager's ability to process and interpret social interactions. Further more, the challenges a teen with special needs has may be magnified during this developmental stage. 


Any adolescent is fully capable of navigating through this road trip, especially with the support of peer relationships, parent involvement, and a developing positive image.

You, as parents, are fully capable of supporting your adolescent during this adventure. Pack your bags with suitcases labeled "my child" rather than "my child's problems." "The present" rather than "the past." "Feelings." "Understanding." "Accepting." As soon as you see yourself capable of this adventure, you will begin to see your teenager as capable of this adventure.

Relationships then, (with peers, parents, caregivers) are the vehicle for change. Conveying these messages to your teen "I am here," "I hear you," "I understand," and "I care" will equip your teen to recover from the bumps in the road or to get back on track from a detour. (Messages taken from Child Parent Relationship Therapy: A 10 Session Filial Therapy Model by Landreth, G., & Bratton, S.)

vehicle for change

Reality is that we have to service our vehicles. Sometimes getting your vehicle serviced means taking it into the shop to a professional. 1 in 5 adolescents will experience significant symptoms of emotional distress (Report on Adolescent Health: cdcinfo@cdc.gov).

Teenagers are likely to feel reluctant, suspicious, worried, intimidated, or even weird going to a professional such as a counselor. That is why the metaphor of taking a car into the shop or a "pit" stop to be able to get back on track is effective when talking to teens.


"Play" provides a metaphor for teenagers to safely express what is bothering them without really having to talk about it. Play therapy with adolescents does not involve sitting on the floor together with a counselor playing baby dolls or army men. In play therapy with adolescents, the teen has the control what to reveal or keep hidden. Using play, sandtray figures, and expressive techniques will stimulate the teenager's desire and need to be expressive and create identity--which is central to this developmental stage. The positive therapeutic relationship that develops between a teenager and a counselor brings healing, forward movement, and relief of emotional stress. 

At The Playroom Lubbock we have Kelly Martin, a licensed professional counselor and registered play therapist trained in play therapy. She has  a "playroom" designed for play or activity therapy for preteens and teens.  

Providing optimal and collaborative therapy solutions for kids--of any age. Of any ability.  

The New Playroom On the Block

Why "The Playroom Lubbock?" Because kids identify with the word "play" based upon their concept of the meaning of "play." And "playroom" to a kid means a room full of play. How great is that?! How is The Playroom Lubbock like any other youth gym or childcare? It's not. At The Playroom Lubbock, we will provide optimal and collaborative therapy solutions to children and adolescents to address their mental health, cognitive, physical, emotional, social, behavioral, or communication needs so that they can function at the highest level at home, in school, and in the community.

Our therapy services will include play therapy counseling, speech therapy, and behavioral interventions. We hope to offer occupational therapy in the future. Licensed therapists utilize "play" techniques in "playrooms." When a parent, caregiver, or therapist says to a child, "It's time to go to 'The Playroom," hopefully the child will feel a sense of comfort and familiarity.

A component of "optimal" therapy solutions is the therapist. The Playroom Lubbock is now accepting applications for office sublease by independent therapist practitioners and to become a part of The Playroom Lubbock therapist team. We are seeking office sublease applicants for Occupational Therapists, Speech Language Pathologists, and Behavioral Specialists with experience with children with Autism.

Interested therapists may email kelly@playroomlubbock.com for more information. Serious applicants may send a resume, references, and a letter of interest.

As the new playroom on the block, we look forward to serving the community of Lubbock and surrounding areas.