Childhood trauma can have a significant impact on a child’s overall well-being and can lead to emotional, social, behavioral, psychological, and physical problems. The impacts have been studied for decades and research demonstrates the effects of childhood trauma last well into adulthood and can create lasting negative consequences. While it is never too late to treat childhood trauma, treating it early helps to mitigate these impacts and allows for more normal development.
Treatments That Work For Adults May Not be Appropriate for Children
Many of the normal trauma treatments for adults are inappropriate for young children as they have limited verbal skills and may not be able to express their emotions or talk about their experiences the same way adults do. However, with play therapy, a child can act out their experiences through a variety of methods which allows them to express their feelings and work through traumatic memories in a developmentally appropriate way.
Play Therapy Allows Children to Process Emotions at Their Level of Understanding
Play therapy also provides a space to learn coping skills and feel empowered and resilient. Trauma can lead children to feel helpless and powerless and struggle to handle complex emotions and symptoms of their trauma. Play therapy provides the building blocks to rebuild hope, resilience, and safety.
Which Children May Benefit From Play Therapy for Trauma?
Play therapy is an appropriate treatment model for children under the age of 12 (and even older in many cases) to work through trauma and is the treatment of choice for all mental health concerns for children 6 and younger. Children who have suffered a variety of trauma can benefit from play therapy.
Some examples of traumatic experiences include:
- Sexual Abuse
- Physical Abuse
- Emotional or Psychological Abuse
- Witnessing domestic violence or other violent crime
- Substance abuse or addictions in the home
- Natural disasters
- Medical trauma including birth trauma
- Attachment trauma from the adoption or foster care
- Severe mental illness of a caregiver
- The traumatic loss of a significant loved one or caregiver
- Imprisonment of a parent
This is not an exhaustive list of all traumatic experiences a child may have. Research continues to suggest traumas related to bullying, poverty, racism, and microaggressions may have lasting harmful effects as well. Any event that overwhelms a child’s ability to cope can be traumatic and different children respond to the same circumstances in different ways.
Additional Resources About Childhood Trauma and Play Therapy
Not all children who experience trauma will develop long-term problems, however, it is important to provide all children who have experienced a traumatic event with the resources they need to cope and heal. Play therapy is one such resource. Additional resources and information on childhood trauma and play therapy can be found in the Association for Play Therapy, The Child Trauma Academy, The Child Mind Institute, and The National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
If your child has experienced a traumatic event and you are wondering if they need play therapy, here are some signs you may want to consider treatment:
- New or worsening fear or separation anxiety
- Regression in toileting or other developmental stages
- Frequency of crying or meltdowns
- Sleep disturbances or nightmares, especially if related to the event
- Playing out the trauma or repeating play themes that are violent or related to safety
- Sexualized behaviors
- Staring, shut down, or increased daydreaming
There are several types of play therapy for trauma depending upon the nature of the trauma, the specific child, and the therapist’s training. Many traditional trauma treatment models have been adapted to children such as EMDR, Trauma Focused CBT, Brain spotting, Accelerated Resolution Therapy, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, and Somatic Experiencing. Other therapies are specifically designed to help with relational and attachment trauma such as PCIT, Filial Therapy, and TheraPlay.
Play Therapy: An Integrative Approach
Play therapy allows the integration of some of the most effective therapies in a developmentally appropriate approach. A clinician may use various materials and techniques to adapt treatment to the child’s specific needs.
Sand Tray Therapy
The use of sand play therapy or sand tray therapy allows children to use various figures to represent traumatic memories or material. Through the use of this medium, children can explore feelings, desensitize their bodies to trauma reactions, and learn new skills.
Healing Through Art
Clinicians may use various art materials to allow children to create drawings, paintings, or other forms to represent their experiences or feelings. This can help children put words to feelings and experiences and process their trauma. Often children will first communicate their traumatic memories through art leading parents to be concerned and seek therapy, to begin with. Harnessing this natural process of exploring difficult experiences can be powerful for children.
Roll Play With Puppets or Dolls
Using dolls, puppets, stuffed animals, and other toys allow children to act out their experiences in a safe and non-threatening way. This modality also allows the child to take on different roles such as the hero or to place the clinician in the victim role so that they can better understand what happened to them. Using dolls or other figures allows a child to express what happened with some psychological distance by projecting it onto the toys.
Therapeutic Activities and Books
Play therapists may also use therapeutic games, books, or other activities to teach emotional regulation skills, provide education on trauma, and enhance relational safety.
Start the Healing Process Today with Play Therapy in Katy, TX.
Childhood Trauma can significantly impact a child’s well-being and play therapy can be an effective tool to help children heal. Play therapy meets children where they are and allows for children to communicate in natural and familiar ways for them. It can help children process traumatic experiences, express emotions, develop coping skills, and build resilience. While play therapy may not fit every situation, it is a valuable tool in healing childhood trauma.
Want more information about Play Therapy and how it can help your Child? Visit the Parents Corner at The Association for Play Therapy (a4pt.org). Or follow the steps below to connect with us at Katy Counseling:
- Learn more about our team here.
- Fill out our convenient online contact form for more information.
- Begin the journey to making your family whole.
Other Mental Health Services Offered At Katy Counseling
In addition to offering Play Therapy, we also offer a wide range of services for adults, teens, and children. These services include Teen Counseling, Adult Counseling, Couples Counseling, Trauma Counseling, Women’s Issues, and Lens Neurofeedback. Our goal is to meet you where you are and help guide you.