Child Centered Play Therapy can be one of the most difficult models to “trust the process”.
Ok, I’ll take ownership - it was the most difficult model for me to understand what I was doing, why I was doing it, and link to effectiveness. I often had thoughts like “am I even doing anything here?” or “how is this going to help us work towards our goals?”.
It was a hard concept to grasp coming from a grad program that had a teeny tiny sprinkle of child interventions but was nearly entirely focused on adult mental health diagnosis and treatment…which looks completely different from child therapy! AND not to mention there are many universities that don’t think that Play Therapy is an evidence based practice or at the very least don’t mention it as an effective type of therapy for children. (Learn more about how Play Therapy is an evidence based practice HERE)
AND we also have insurance companies pushing for quantifiable goals and tracking of results.
So, in all of this it was so much easier for me to understand that when I read The Color Monster and engage in a Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapy activity (check out this one HERE) it is really clear that I am working on goals of emotional regulation, widening the window of tolerance, emotional literacy, or some other related goal.
It was definitely harder to connect the dots about how the facilitative statement and session skills lead to overall changes for a child’s clinical goals. Check out my free download of the CCPT skills cheat sheet to learn more about the CCPT skills!
SO when you are used to engaging in a specific intervention as a therapist it can be difficult to understand that the facilitative statements and session structuring skills ARE the intervention. And because of that, I wanted to bust the myth of the Child Centered Play Therapy intervention.
It. Does. Not. Exist.
Well, it doesn’t exist in the sense that you as the therapist are having no part in planning or facilitating anything. At all.
As CCPT therapists we let the child lead the way and we are either using our session structuring skills, facilitative statements, or trying our best to play the role the child needs us to play, taking no creative liberties to put our own creative spin on it. The foundation of the model is the relationship you have with the child.
Oftentimes in consultation questions will come up about CCPT interventions or I will hear therapists talk about doing a CCPT session and at the same time making a suggestion, offering an activity, or other sorts of directive approaches. And in those moments we can come back to the model and the therapist skills within the model.
So, you miiiiight be attempting to engaging in an intervention (and therefore breaking from fidelity of the model) if you:
Let’s take this example - pretend we are thinking about a session where a child has completed an art project of her big feelings. That COULD be a CCPT session if the child spontaneously stated they were going to create art, got the supplies themselves, on their own generated the idea, and got to work!
It would be departing from a CCPT session if the therapist did any of the following:
And if you have found yourself doing any of the above - there is definitely no shame in that! Check out my free download of the CCPT skills, get more training, or seek out supervision/consultation. It is definitely a tough model, but one that has been proven through research to be incredibly effective for healing young people - even when we can’t directly draw the line from “intervention” to symptom.
What has been the hardest thing for you about the CCPT model? Have you found any good tips or suggestions to help you work through it? 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.