Online Play Therapy in Charlotte, NC—Does it work?

In this time of crisis, taking care of you and your family’s mental health is more important than ever. COVID-19 is instilling fear and anxiety in people of all ages, and this includes children. Research shows that young children can and do experience psychological stress, most commonly due to major life events like the COVID-19 pandemic, parental worry or conflict, and loss in the family. If a child is continuously exposed to stress, it can have detrimental effects on their immune system and mental health later in life. (Carlsson et al., 2014).

Because developing children are not capable of accurately expressing their emotions through words, you may not be able to tell right away that your young ones are feeling stressed. You might notice changes in your child, such as differences in appetite or sleep patterns, increased negative emotions and behaviors, or complaints of feeling physically sick (American Psychological Association, 2019).

Play Is the Language of the Child

As a parent, you’re probably concerned about how to ensure your children are staying mentally and physically healthy during self-isolation. In order to better serve you and the rest of the Charlotte community, Thriveworks has now transitioned all services to telemental health, including Play Therapy. Play Therapy (PT) is an evidence-based, developmentally appropriate intervention for children ages 3-12. There is an abundance of research to support the efficacy of PT in helping children to cope with a variety of emotional and behavioral issues. PT also fosters in children an increase in self-esteem, problem-solving skills, self-regulation, and the ability to express tough emotions. (Jayne & Ray, 2015; Landreth, 2012). Now more than ever, your child can benefit from Play Therapy in learning to process and cope with the stress that the coronavirus is causing.

Will Online Play Therapy Still Benefit My Child?

Online therapy provides many advantages over in-person, such as overall convenience, flexibility of scheduling, and absence of travel time. There’s also plenty of research to show that virtual counseling is comparable in effectiveness to face-to-face counseling when it comes to talk therapy (Hilty et al. 2013). But what about Play Therapy? It’s hard to imagine how PT could still be effective online, but the research tells us it is! Parents like you who shared the same concerns about the value of virtual PT were asked to rate their perceptions at the beginning of therapy versus the end. Before beginning the program, caregivers harbored negative opinions about the effectiveness of online Play Therapy, believing that it would not work. However, at the end of the process, parents were pleasantly surprised to find positive changes in their children and rated their experiences favorably, citing virtual PT as both effective and convenient (Hicks & Baggerly, 2017). A few other studies have produced similar results in showing that remote counseling for children is beneficial and even surpasses in-person therapy in some ways, because it reduces barriers such as stigma and lack of access. (Nelson & Patton, 2016).

How Exactly Does It Work?

Still not convinced? Think about it this way – the fundamental reason that Play Therapy is so successful is because of the relationship between the child and the therapist. This relationship is unique in that the therapist cultivates a safe, consistent environment where the child can just be themselves and explore their emotions without having to worry about following many rules or being judged by others. The therapist does not have to be physically in the room in order to nurture this special relationship and guide the child in working through their feelings (Jayne & Ray, 2015). In fact, a major element of Play Therapy is that the therapist does not interfere with the child’s play unless specifically asked, further supporting that that face-to-face interaction is not necessary (Landreth, 2012).

It is important to keep in mind that your child recognizes that their time with the therapist is distinct from their normal play time, since sessions will most likely be held in their own bedroom or playroom. Your therapist will discuss with you how to ensure that your child understands the difference, since this is such a crucial part of why Play Therapy works. If you have any more questions, feel free to contact us at Thriveworks today!

American Psychological Association. (2019, September 5). Identifying signs of stress in

your children and teens. http://www.apa.org/topics/stress-children

Carlsson, E., Frostell, A., Ludvigsson, J., Faresjö, M., & Carlsson, E. (2014).

Psychological stress in children may alter the immune response. Journal of

Immunology (Baltimore, Md. : 1950), 192(5), 2071–2081. https://doi.org/10.4049/jimmunol.1301713

Hicks, B. & Baggerly, J. (2017). The effectiveness of child parent relationship therapy in

an online format. International Journal of Play Therapy, 26(3), 138-150. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pla0000033

Hilty, D., Ferrer, D., Parish, M., Johnston, B., Callahan, E., & Yellowlees, P. (2013). The

Effectiveness of Telemental Health: A 2013 Review. Telemedicine and e-Health,

19(6), 444–454. https://doi.org/10.1089/tmj.2013.0075

Jayne, K.M. & Ray, D.C. (2015). Therapist-provided conditions in child-centered play

therapy. The Journal of Humanistic Counseling, 54(2), 86-103.

https://doi.org/10.1002/johc.12005

Landreth, G. (2012). Play therapy: The art of the relationship (3rd ed).

Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

Nelson, E. L., & Patton, S. (2016). Using Videoconferencing to Deliver Individual

Therapy and Pediatric Psychology Interventions with Children and Adolescents.

Journal of child and adolescent psychopharmacology, 26(3), 212–220.

https://doi.org/10.1089/cap.2015.0021

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