The most common image of counseling is a person reclining on a couch, talking at length about his or her problems, while the counselor furiously scribbles notes and occasionally asks, “and how did that make you feel?”
It’s a traditional approach, and it’s true that some counselors actually practice that way. The professional counselors at Care to Change also listen carefully to what our clients have to say, but that’s just one part of what we do to help. Sometimes, for example, we want to see how people play.
One of the techniques we use to better understand the relationships between children and their parents is called Theraplay. A psychologist named Dr. Ann Jemberg developed Theraplay in the late 1960s, while working with the Head Start program. She was looking for a way to build attachment between adults and children, and to help the kids develop trust in others.
For a counselor, Theraplay offers a very effective way to manage a session and identify areas where parents and their children could improve their relationships. It’s built upon four overlapping principles: structure, engage, challenge, and nurture, and it holds that all four must be present in a healthy parent-child relationship.
Some parents may be excellent when it comes to providing structure and challenge, for example, but they may be less comfortable with nurturing and engaging. By helping parents develop those skills, a counselor will enhance their ability to connect with their kids.
In a typical setting, a counselor will ask a parent to perform several activities with the child and record a video of how they do it. Afterwards, the counselor will sit down with the parent and watch the video while pointing to examples of each of the principles. It’s an excellent approach, because it allows the counselor to point to what parents do well, while showing them where they may not have noticed their child’s needs. Usually, they immediately see opportunities where the example applies to their home lives. We often use Theraplay as part of the Trust-Based Relational Intervention® process.
Michael Spencer is a TBRI Practitioner and educator