Working with parents and family systems is one of the most difficult tasks in play therapy.
In addition to focusing on individual symptoms, treatment planning, and doing the actual work of play therapy, you are also often juggling parent expectations that miiiight not be exactly in line with reality. You're all to familiar with parents expecting quick fixes, thinking that therapy is for dropping their child off to do the work solo, or that coming to therapy is something you do when it is convenient or in crisis rather than a consistent commitment.
And all these expectations can come with pressure - for a child to progress through therapy faster, to make certain symptoms go away, or to achieve a goal. You are fielding questions like "why haven't the tantrums stopped yet", "will she ever sleep in her own bed" and "is play therapy really effective? Shouldn't he be talking about this?"
Unfortunately (although you wish you did really have a magic wand) complex mental health difficulties that have been present for years don’t go away in 4 sessions, children rarely change in isolation without the participation of parents and caregivers, and consistent therapy is necessary for change. And as much as you know this, this disconnect can leave parents feeling disappointed and discouraged, leading to difficulty with engagement, hopelessness, or therapy attrition.
And as a therapist you are left between a rock and a hard place with feelings of being overwhelmed, discouraged, and out of ideas. Long story short - you feel stuck.
Then there are many other complex layers or roadblocks in working with family systems. You feel stuck when parents struggle to follow through with recommendations, want to control what their child talks about (or plays about), or are actually engaging in behaviors that sustain the problem. Then, when you add in attachment, parenting styles, adverse childhood experiences, trauma, and a parent’s own history and mental health it can feel pretty overwhelming.
In trying to hold all of these things while balancing your relationship with the child, it’s easy to get stuck and not know how to make a roadmap forward. Your not sure what skills to try first, and with all the parenting programs, advice and opinions out there (sometimes that are in complete opposition) you're not even sure what is effective anymore.
For some therapist, the overwhelm makes them question whether they want to continue working with kids at all.
But what if it didn't have to be like that?
Now imagine this…
And all of this with tons of parenting skills, handouts, downloads, and specific steps to troubleshoot stuck points!
Effectively involving parents in their child’s therapy leads to significantly better therapeutic outcomes. This is why it is not only important to involve parents and caregivers in Play Therapy, but essential. Parents and caregivers are the most important people in a child’s life, so involving parents in the play therapy process makes sense! AND when you as the therapist have the confidence, competence, and skills to effectively work with family systems, you feel better about how you show up as a therapist, and your clients make greater gains too!
Now, I have a confession to make.
Working with parents and family systems inside of Play Therapy is one of my favorite things to do! I love seeing the amazing shifts that can happen with a child when the family structure shifts to support the child. I love seeing parent’s confidence grow when they can be more effective and connected with their child.
I love when we land at a treatment planning session and the parent actually forgot their child’s symptoms were as severe as they were. I absolutely LOVE to hear the words “we aren’t there anymore, things are so much better!”
BUT… it wasn’t always this way in my practice.
When I was early in my career I dreaded parenting sessions. I didn’t have the tools I needed to effectively work with family systems or give the parents the skills and techniques they needed to be effective. Looking back there is SO much I would want to tell my earlier therapist self to help make the shift from overwhelmed to feeling excited to do the work.
…and I want that for your practice too!
If this sounds like something you need in your practice I would encourage you to check out my new course Holding Systems: Supporting Parents and Caregivers in Play Therapy. Inside the course you will find a comprehensive training that supports you in your work with parents. Imagine being able to shift your practice with parents from one of overwhelm and blocks to ease and confidence.
And with this shift? Well, it leads to a more effective course of therapy and symptom reduction for your child clients!
Inside the course you will learn:
You also won’t walk away empty handed. Inside the course you get multiple handouts and bonus downloads including:
Want to learn more? Check out the details below!
This course is approved for 8.5 APT Non-Contact hours by Meehan Mental Health Services (APT Approved Provider 19-580).
Course Format: Train when it works for you! This course is a pre-recorded online self paced course where the modules are broken up into smaller digestible chunks that can be completed during a client cancellation, on the weekends, early in the morning, late at night - whenever! You can login at your own pace, re-watch content, and have unlimited access to the course. This course is designated "Non-Contact" by the Association for Play Therapy.
Who should attend: This program is a beginning to intermediate course for any Play Therapist who wants to increase confidence in working with parent and caregiver systems in Play Therapy!
Hi! I'm Ann - or formally Ann Meehan, MS, LPCC, RPT-S, EMDRIA Consultant. I work as a private practice therapist in the north woods of Minnesota and specialize in working with young people ages 3 and up using Play Therapy and EMDR. I have a library of trainings and run The Playful Therapist Blog. Overall I am passionate about helping other therapists grow into competent and confident Play Therapists, trauma therapists, and child and adolescent therapists.