Do your kiddos ever sit you down on the couch and explain to you what they are feeling and why? Well, usually not. You see, adult brains are fully developed and are able to talk and share what’s going on in their lives. Children, on the other hand, are still building their brain and don’t have all of the words to be able to express themselves. However, children can connect, process, and express themselves through play. Garry Landreth, the Founder of Child-Centered Play Therapy, shares, “Toys are children’s words and play is their language”.
What is Play Therapy? What does Non-Directive Mean?
Let’s start with the definition of play therapy, which means children, usually ages 3-12, using toys and art to express themselves and process what they need. That’s right, this counseling room is filled with toys and art supplies. These items serve as a child’s way of expressing what an adult would share with their words. Non-directive allows the client to lead the sessions, meaning getting to play freely without the counselor directing activities or questions. Counselors who use this theory believe the client is the expert in their own lives and will bring into session what they need that day. It can be harmful to force clients to process before they are ready, ultimately delaying progress.
What Happens in Non-Directive Play Therapy?
Play therapy takes the form of what the child needs it to be in that session. Play therapy could involve the child playing with toys to act out a fight they just had or using art supplies and the sandtray to regulate themselves. Play therapy could also be connecting with the counselor in an activity together, that the child came up with on their own, to build trust and self esteem. The counselor is there to support the child and assist with processing, regulation, and limit setting. If the child invites the counselor into their play, then the counselor will continue to follow the child’s lead. Allowing the client to take the lead enables them to build self-esteem and confidence.
Who Could Benefit from Non-Directive Play Therapy?
Really any child could benefit from play therapy! Play therapy has proven success with children from pre-k to middle school. It is a safe space for them to process and express themselves with someone who isn’t a family member or friend. It establishes a personal relationship that is free from any connection to their outside world. Play therapy can be used with anxiety, depression, emotional dysregulation, anger outbursts, life transitions, divorce, low self esteem, social skill issues, school behavior problems, grief and so much more.
How Does Non-Directive Play Therapy Work?
First of all, play therapy takes lots of time and is thought of as a journey. It is extremely important for the child to come to weekly sessions to create safety, trust, and consistency. Sometimes things can get worse at home before they get better, which is normal since a child is having big feelings that they are not used to expressing.
The counselor will meet with the child one-on-one, so they are fully able to process what they need without their parent present. The very first step is building trust and rapport with the counselor. Without that, how could anyone process what’s going on in their lives? The counselor will observe and be fully present with the child in a calming space, track the child’s play, and reflect feelings. The counselor will also set limits as needed to provide safety for the child, counselor, and room. The counselor will label positive characteristics and strengths they notice in the child as well.
Is There Parent Involvement?
Yes, and this is so important, you and the counselor are on a team now. The counselor is only with the child once a week for 45-50 minutes, while you, the parent, are with your child the majority of the time. The counselor will first set up an initial intake session with the parent to hear all concerns and goals for the child before even meeting with the child. The counselor will then set up separate sessions, usually every 4-8 sessions, to discuss play themes they are seeing in the session, to hear how the kiddo is doing at home, and to provide parenting support while teaching skills to use at home.
It will be so challenging to not know what is going on in session right away, and it is common for it to take at least 10 sessions before safety and trust is built with your child. It is quite valuable for parents to recognize that when their child begins their journey through therapy, the parent does too. With that comes the task of parents being patient and understanding that their child’s progress is fully maximized when the parent changes alongside with them.
Would you like a tool to help you understand yourself and others? I highly recommend the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). There are many personality assessments. Some are large and cumbersome, while others are oversimplified. The Myers-Briggs seems to hit a sweet spot. As psychologist Dr. Richard Grant puts it, the Myers-Briggs is “simple, memorable, portable, and applicable.”
Based on theories by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961), the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator was developed by two American women, Katharine Briggs (1875-1968) and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers (1897-1980). Although some academics dismissed their work because they did not have PhD’s, the two women persevered in their research. They were followed by Isabel’s son Peter B. Myers and many other researchers who continued their work. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator now has over 70 years of solid research behind it. It has been shown to be reliable (consistent) and valid (meaningful). It has been translated into many languages, and is used throughout the world.
The Myers-Briggs is a way to appreciate an invisible form of human diversity: our personalities. The Myers-Briggs sorts humankind into 16 distinct personality types. People of the same personality type have striking similarities in outlook, even if they come from opposite sides of the world. Indeed, at some international conferences on the Myers-Briggs, participants are grouped with others of their personality type. Participants find it invigorating to meet others of their own personality type, from various nationalities and cultures.
The Myers-Briggs is 100% positive and favorable. All 16 personality types are good. In fact, all of the types benefit from one other. They are complementary. We are able to give feedback for each other’s blind spots. A classic book by Isabel Briggs Myers and Peter B. Myers is entitled “Gifts Differing,” from the Biblical verse “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us…” (Romans 12:6, KJV). One of the main things that we have learned from the COVID pandemic is that we need other human beings more than we previously realized. The Myers-Briggs gives us a way to look at our need for each other.
If we compare human beings to computers, we all have a dazzling array of “applications”—all the skills that we have learned. But under the surface, we appear to have 16 different “operating systems”—our innate way of viewing the world. If you can identify your “operating system,” and the “operating systems” of your loved ones, you have a powerful tool for understanding each other.
You are unique. There has never been anyone like you in the history of the world, nor will there ever be. But you have some characteristics that you share with some other human beings: for instance, your nationality, your gender, and your age. And you have some characteristics that you share with every other human being: for instance, you have a brain and a heart. Your Myers-Briggs personality type is in that middle category: you share your personality type with some other human beings, but not with all. Your Myers-Briggs personality type doesn’t label or stereotype you. It is simply a useful tool. There is infinite diversity within each of the 16 types.
The Myers-Briggs Preferences
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator sorts people’s preferences according to four two-ended dimensions:
Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I);
Sensing (S) or Intuition (N—since the letter “I” has already been used);
Thinking (T) or Feeling (F); and
Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).
Developmentally, we become conscious through our preferences within each of these pairs. Determining your preference in each of the four pairs determines your personality type, which is designated by four letters. For example, I am an ISFJ, meaning that I prefer Introversion, Sensing, Feeling, and Judging. As you can see, the two choices for each of the four pairs yields 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 16 types.
Myths and Facts
Myth: My Myers-Briggs type has changed as I have matured.
Fact: Jung’s theory is that we are born with a “true type” that remains the same all our lives, even as we learn and grow. Your “true type” is worth learning, because it’s a fundamental part of who you are.
Myth: The Myers-Briggs is unreliable, because I got a different result on two different occasions that I took it.
Fact: No psychological assessment tool is perfect. Human beings are dazzlingly complex. Psychology is not an exact science like physics or math. The result that you get from the questionnaire, your “measured type,” may not be the same as your “true type.” Once you know your “measured type,” I recommend that you meet with a “Certified Practitioner of the MBTI” to determine your “true type.” Sometimes one letter, or even 2 letters, need to be adjusted. In my MBTI Certification class, there were 15 students. The instructor met with each of us individually to determine our “true type.” For 12 of us, our “true type” matched our “measured type.” For 2 students, one letter needed to be adjusted. For one student, 2 letters needed to be adjusted. For each of the 15 students, learning one’s “true type” was a wonderful “Aha!” moment, a moment of feeling understood, appreciated, and affirmed.
Myth: I can’t be classified, because I am equally good at both choices, in some or all of the pairs.
Fact: You may have developed strong skills on both sides of a pair. However, one side of the pair is more natural for you, and the other is more of a learned skill. When answering the questionnaire, if you are in doubt about how to answer a question, ask yourself which felt more natural to you as you were growing up—and which you may have learned later, because you needed to. An analogy is that one of my friends was born left-handed in the 1930’s. According to the custom of the time, she was taught to write with her right hand. However, all her life, for all skills other than writing, her left hand was more adept. The goal of the Myers-Briggs is to identify your natural, innate preferences.
Myth: My score on Extraversion is only slightly higher than my score on Introversion. That means that I’m only slightly Extraverted.
Fact: The Myers-Briggs is simply a sorting procedure. It does not indicate the degree or extent to which you have a characteristic. It sorts people as having a preference for Extraversion, or for Introversion, one or the other, not “how much.” The scores indicate how confident we are about the accuracy of the sorting procedure. If you score high on Extraversion, we can be fairly sure that you have a preference for Extraversion. If you score only slightly higher for Extraversion than for Introversion, we can’t be too sure about that preference. In that case, you especially need a “Certified Practitioner of the MBTI” to help you discover your “true type.”
Myth: Introverts are shy and don’t like being with people.
Fact: Introverts can be very friendly and outgoing. Introversion and Extraversion have nothing to do with whether you enjoy being with people. They have to do with how you “recharge your batteries.” When you are tired or stressed, does it re-energize you to be with other people? Or do you need some time by yourself to regain your energy? This is an example of how the words in the Myers-Briggs are used a little differently from the way they are used in everyday speech. Try to drop your preconceptions about the words, and learn their Myers-Briggs meaning.
Myth: Judging types are judgmental.
Fact: Having a Judging preference does not mean that you are judgmental; nor does having a Perceiving preference mean that you are perceptive. Here is another place where Myers-Briggs terms are different from the related, everyday words. Remember that everything in the Myers-Briggs is positive. The word “judging” is used in a positive way, as when you say that a person “has good judgment.” People with a Judging preference like to make decisions, make plans, and have things settled. People with a Perceiving preference like to be spontaneous, keep their options open, and respond fluidly to new situations.
Myth: Thinking types can’t feel, and Feeling types can’t think.
Fact: All humans think, and all humans feel. In the Myers-Briggs, having a Thinking preference means that you like to make decisions based on objective, logical analysis. Having a Feeling preference means that you like to make decisions based on people, values, and harmony. Both ways of making decisions are valuable.
How to Proceed
The most accurate way to find your personality type is to take the actual Myers-Briggs Type Indicator questionnaire, and then to fine-tune the result in collaboration with a “Certified Practitioner of the MBTI.” The real MBTI is available online at themyersbriggs.com, or in a self-scorable, printed version. The real MBTI (online or printed) can be completed in about half an hour. You can consult with a Certified Practitioner of the MBTI either online or in person. However, be cautious if you explore the Internet about the MBTI. As with many other topics, there is a lot of inaccurate information available.
Your goal, in collaboration with your Certified Practitioner, is to find your “true type.” Your practitioner can give you some written descriptions of your “measured type.” Please consider them as if you were trying on a pair of shoes. Let your practitioner know whether they fit or not. If they don’t fit, tell your practitioner where they rub. That will indicate what shoes to try on next. A good way to decide whether the descriptions fit is to highlight the phrases that fit you; put an X beside the phrases that are very different from you; and leave unmarked the phrases that are neutral. If there are a lot of X’s, you probably will want to try on another pair of “shoes.”
Once you know your “true type,” you and your practitioner can look at how your personality type interacts with those of the people close to you. This is a way of appreciating your unique gifts, and the gifts of those around you. I think that you will find this exploration helpful and affirming of you and your loved ones.
[I wish to thank Richard D. Grant, Jr., Ph.D., and Gerald P. Macdaid for teaching me the above material.]
Love is such a special feeling we experience with others, especially with a parent towards their child. There are many ways to show your child you love them without just saying it. Each child receives love differently, depending on what they are most comfortable with. Test these out and see what works the best for your kiddo, and, of course, feel the love!
1. Spend One-on-One Time Together
It’s so valuable to spend one-on-one time with each of your children, even if it’s 30 minutes every week. Pick the same day and time each week if possible so it’s a “date” your child looks forward to every week. Allow your child to pick the activity they enjoy. Devote all your focus on them and the activity they chose. This time should just be you and your child, nothing else.
2. Listen and Reflect Feelings
Your child shares aspects that are important to them with you. Make sure they feel acknowledged and prioritized when they share those aspects. Put down your phone when they are talking and make eye contact while appearing interested. Reflect any feelings you are noticing in them or in yourself. Reflecting allows for you to understand your child and for your child to feel understood and connected by you.
3. Hug Them
Physical touch is a critical part in fostering a loving and trusting relationship with your child. Hug them, cuddle with them, high-five them, hold their hand, sit or lay with them on the couch. Be near them and show them you are physically there for them.
4. Create a Routine Together
Having your child assist in building their routine allows for esteem building and creates trust together. It also allows having a set schedule to provide safety and consistency for your child’s life, especially during the school semester when tasks feel more hectic.
5. Share Strengths
When you notice a strength in your child, tell them. Tell them everyday. You are showing your belief in them, which allows for them to grow into that and believe in themselves as well.
6. Family Meetings
Having a family meeting to discuss topics that effect everyone, should include everyone’s voice. Allow your child to brainstorm on where to go for dinner or what changes need to be made at home to assist the family in working together. This acknowledges you care about their voice and value their opinion. This assists with feelings of belonging and security.
7. Be Patient
Having kids can be extremely challenging and stressful. Some days you just want to scream and run away. Breathe. Take care of yourself and figure out what helps you feel calm and regulated. You are the example at the house to show how to handle big feelings.
8. Laugh Out Loud
Laughter can feel like the best medicine. Be silly with your child and allow for good times to roll together. Laughing can bring you both even closer towards one another.
9. Acknowledge When You’re Wrong
We are certain to make mistakes, we are only human. How we are able to recover and how we handle our mistakes is what makes the difference rather than the act itself. Do not be afraid to admit you were wrong to your child. This shows them that it is okay to admit when you have done something you should not have or misspoken.
10. Surprise them
Establishing that routine is crucial to consistent growth but an unexpected surprise shows your child you’re thinking of them, even when they aren’t around. This can be as small as bringing their favorite snack when being picked up from school, putting a sweet note in their lunchbox, or bringing home something from the store that reminded you of them.