Have you ever had a client walk into session, SO EXCITED, holding one of their prized possessions from home? They have been thinking about your session for DAYS and even put their toy right by the door so they wouldn’t forget it before they left!
Well...if that has never happened to you in office it has most definitely happened to you while doing Tele-Play! I mean, for most kids (even if they have a Play Therapy Kit) they definitely want to use their toys too during play.
So...um...how do we approach this? Does using toys from home in Play Therapy matter either way?
Well...the answer to this, as with most things, is - it depends!
Let’s start with theory. Depending on what theory you are working from might hold a lot of clues to how to approach this. If your theory states that the therapist will be selecting all the toys and deciding how they will be played with then there might be some more rules or restrictions. OR if theory only restricts to certain specific toys and activities then let theory lead the way!
If we look at Child Centered Play Therapy, Dr. Garry Landreth’s text Play Therapy and the Art of the Relationship has one general rule, which is only allowing items in the playroom that you would normally select for the playroom.
Not so sure what that means? This article HERE from the University of North Texas does an excellent job of spelling out criteria for selecting toys and materials, highlighting the three categories of toys, and giving a sample list of a fully equipped playroom.
So long story short - the dinosaur, baby doll, race car, or lego ship are totally invited in to play. The Xbox or DS? Not so much.
My take on this is that if children think about, in advance, their time with you and are planning out what they specifically want to do, whatever they bring has special meaning, purpose, and intention. AND could it be that that they have a special theme they want to express that they aren’t sure you have a toy that would exactly cover it?
Because of this rarely do I not allow a child to bring into the Playroom and engage with a toy they have brought from home.
I usually say something like “I see you brought something special from home”. Then they usually tell me what it is and what they would like to do with it.
From there I set some structure and say something along the lines of “Well I want you to know that what you bring in with you must leave with you today! Your dinosaur would be pretty lonely if he had to hang out with me for the rest of the week until I see you next!”
This statement can be especially important if a client brings in a toy that is similar to yours (ie a lego character or miniature) to really make sure that they are leaving with all of their belongings. I have also had young people bring in the EXACT same miniature of something I have! It gets a little trickier from there - but OH what a treasure trove of potential themes!
Now one of the things I appreciate about toys from home when doing in office therapy is the space that is naturally created and distance from the play theme as the client leaves the office. They stop playing, gather their things, head to the waiting room, take the elevator down to the parking area (at least in my office!) and have a car ride home before the toy can be really played with again.
This creates some distance and safety from the play themes they have been working through in your office. The danger with toys from home in Tele-Play Therapy is that the camera will shut off, the client will continue playing out the play theme without the support and containment of the therapy process AND someone will walk in.
Maybe it’s a brother that completely takes over the storyline of the play. Or maybe a sister teases and makes fun of the toys or story. Maybe it is a parent who is frustrated if there is a mess, they didn’t do their homework, or the way they are playing with the toys.
Here lies the danger that these dynamics are going to come in and affect a play theme and the processing that has just been done. SO because of this I am a HUGE fan of creating a bin of toys that the client only plays with during Play Therapy sessions and then returns to the bin together at the end of the session creating containment (either the client or parent).
However, there are some young people that can’t afford or do not agree to having a separate toy bin. For these clients I also think there is some benefit from creating an intentional clean up time and space from the toys for at least a little bit. Maybe to get a snack, maybe play outside for a bit, or play with some other toys before coming back to the toys used during therapy.
What about you? What does your theory say about toys from home? Drop a comment below!
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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.