What if you went to fix a leak in your sink and you only had one tool - a hammer. How effective would that be? Well I know literally nothing about fixing sinks, however I am going to go out on a limb and say… not very effective.
Okay - so bear with me here. I believe that most therapists are prescriptive in nature - meaning you do not have one theory that you use with every single client that walks through your door. You might have your favorites, but each therapist has a unique recipe for how they show up in the Playroom or therapy office.
For me my main theories and modalities are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (including Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapy, Reality Therapy, and DBT Skills), Person Centered Therapy (including Child Centered Play Therapy), and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. When I carry out these theories in the Playroom and therapy office I am informed by Polyvagal Theory, Attachment Theory, and Synergetic Play Therapy.
AND I don’t believe that every client or every diagnosis should have the same course of therapy because each client is an individual with their own set of experiences, symptom profile, and genetics.
So if you are a thinking of adding Reality Play Therapy into your Play Therapy practice (check out more HERE, HERE, and HERE) I wanted to let you know the top 3 reasons I have found it to be so foundational in my practice:
It gives children control.
In a world where children are often controlled by systems such as household rules, a specific time school starts, classes they need to take, food that is being put on the table, they can often lose hope. Children can develop a worldview that the child’s reality is a product of the world around them rather than controlled within themselves.
I think we have all had a client who blames things such as their poor grades on factors outside themselves such as a teacher’s style, parent's high expectations, etc. rather than the choice of not to study, failure to turn in assignments or ask for help or support.
I want to be mindful that a subject such as difficulties with grades can be due to learning disabilities and racial and ethnic inequality in education. For these children partnering with parents is essential to alter systems and increase ability for choice. This may mean parents advocating for children within systems to provide them more support and choices to meet academic needs, such as an IEP or 504 plan or systemic changes in the school system.
In all of this, children do have choice and giving them the ability to recognize their choice and power, evaluate the effectiveness of their choices and behaviors, and identify alternative ways to meet their needs that are helpful to both themselves and those around them is a beautiful thing to see!
It increases parent compassion and effectiveness
Oftentimes parents have a misguided view of behavior. When using Reality Therapy in working with children it is essential to involve parents and provide psychoeducation about Choice Theory and Reality Therapy.
When I think back on my therapy week, I find myself discussing the 5 basic needs as a motivation for choice and behavior nearly every day in my practice. Once parents can shift their thinking about behavior to a way for their child to meet their needs then parents can begin to evaluate the ways they are supporting their child with meeting their needs in ways that are helpful.
This includes conversations such as how to parenting rules and structures in the home promote or restrict meeting needs. What needs does the family support the most? Which are the most difficult? How can the family shift family behavior to meet the needs of the child?
It’s effective and engaging
I have found using Reality Play Therapy in my practice with young people significantly increases engagement. As a therapist when you come from the lens that all behavior is purposeful we can understand and have empathy for how unhelpful behaviors (like throwing the tablet around the room) were an attempt to meet a need. When we offer compassion and a non judgmental stance we are allowing children to self evaluate and therefore create internal shifts and the belief that they have the power inside of them (through thinking and choice) to have control over their reality.
Most of the time when the child is encouraged to self evaluate in a safe environment they can then begin to process the efficacy of their choices and explore what choices they want to make in the future taking back their control.
Ahh…much better than adults in their lives making value judgements for them and applying solutions.
Drop a comment below - if you use Reality Therapy in your practice what do you find most helpful?
Looking for a deeper dive into Reality Play Therapy complete with tons of interventions and downloadable workbook? Check out this training HERE!
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I'm Ann Meehan, an LPCC, RPT-S, and EMDR Consultant. I help other therapists grow in their passions as play therapists, trauma therapists,and child and adolescent therapists.