'My son hugged someone for the first time,' said the mother of a child with reactive bonding disorder, looking at her child's farewell to the therapist after the last session.
The relationship between a child and a Play Therapy therapist is unique. It is a relationship in which the child can create a true picture of themselves in every way. Why? In my opinion, because it is firmly based on the principles of Virginia Axline's non-directive therapy. This is because the therapist, by accepting the child as he or she is, focuses on making the child see himself or herself as important, valuable, independent, creative and, above all, as he or she is. After many years of treating children, it was surprising to me during my Play Therapy training that a Play Therapy therapist, among other things, does not praise a child for anything. There is no praise here. Praise is a behavioural approach to the child. Instead, there are facts and appropriate reactions of the therapist to what the child is doing, saying and asking. I write 'appropriate' because it is the way the therapist reacts that builds up the child's self-image.
Donald W. Winnicott wrote: "The child sees himself in his mother's eyes". I would only modestly add that the child builds up a self-image in the eyes of the therapist. This statement shows the responsibility of the therapist for how the child will perceive himself.
As adults, we answer the child's questions because we adults know. The Play Therapy therapist does not answer questions. Why and what is the purpose?
How old are you? - A child's question - seemingly trivial and at first glance the answer I am ... years old seems to be adequate. However, such an answer does not add anything to the child's self-knowledge in therapy. Instead, the answer: You are curious about how old I am - gives the child information about the fact that he or she is interested. Children are looking for knowledge about themselves and such an answer meets their need to gather knowledge about themselves.
When asked by a child:
Did I draw nicely? - the therapist can answer: You are curious about my opinion. Here your opinion is the most important. The most important thing is whether you like it.
Another example: What are the other children doing here?
The therapist can answer: You are interested in what the other children are doing here.
Child: Yes, I want to know what other people are playing with.
Therapist: It seems that you would like to know what others are playing with.
Child: Then will you answer me or not?
Therapist: I can see that you are very interested in knowing what other children play with. But here the most important thing is what you play with. This is your Special Hour.
In about 90 % of children, two or three series of questions that end with an answer from the therapist: Here is the most important thing you do. This is your Special Hour", the child is usually quick to add the following question Yes, yes I know, my opinion is the most important thing - and that is exactly the point. A sense of empowerment and taking responsibility for oneself develops naturally, because the child, when making decisions based on his or her choices, knows that he or she is responsible for those choices.
Child: And what colour do you like? -
The therapist will answer: You are curious about my favourite colour. But here the most important thing is what colour you like.
I once heard from a parent that such 'non-answers' to a child's questions is ignoring the child. Here one can rather infer impatience on the part of the parent. I think it is easier and faster for the parent to answer than to think about what the child's answer to the question is for, what need does the child's question arise from?
In my experience, when a child hears that the most important thing is what colour he likes, he reacts with pride rather than disappointment at the lack of an answer. More often than not, he also communicates which colour is his favourite.
Reflecting by "not- answering"-is an art. It takes a lot of self-discipline on the part of the therapist not to answer automatically, but to think about the benefits for the child of mirroring his question and behaviour. However, children's reactions to this way of mirroring are almost always positive, if we subtract their impatience, which the therapist can also reflect by describing the physical signs of impatience observed in the child. ... And this is how the child can be discovered, ...endlessly.