Childhood is a time of tremendous growth and change. Oftentimes it can be quite difficult to determine whether or not behavior is “normal” or an indication a child has strayed from a healthy developmental path.
Mental health difficulties in children most often manifest as behavioral issues in the form of defiance, aggression, “disruptive behaviors”, or as avoidance and passivity in the form of anxiety and withdrawal. In both cases, this can be a major impediment to growth and well-being and can impact a child’s success in all environments (e.g., home, school, peer group, etc.). For example, a child exhibiting defiance often contributes to an environment prevalent with conflict; while a child experiencing anxiety might create an environment of isolation that is devoid of social support and learning opportunities.
While this approach may not be best suited for all mental health concerns in children, research shows that for the most common child mental health issues (e.g., ADHD, defiance/aggression, mood dysregulation, and anxiety) the most effective treatments utilize behaviorally focused interventions that involve the active participation of parents/caregivers in the treatment process.
Play therapy is to children what talk therapy is to adults. Play therapy utilizes play, children’s natural medium of expression, to help them share their feelings more easily through toys instead of words. Play is a child’s language and toys are the child’s words. Though children lack the cognitive skills to express themselves with words, they are fluent in the language of play. Play therapy allows them to express themselves in the way in which they are most comfortable.
The aim of family therapy is to develop insight and understanding into relationship dynamics and family structures that may be contributing to dysfunction for one or several family members and ultimately identify develop healthier, more adaptive means of resolving conflict within the family system. Family therapy is an effective stand-alone treatment and can often be complementary to individual therapy, especially when working with children and adolescents.