Why I am a Child-Centered Play Therapist
Ian Masson, M.S.
If there is one thing I have found in my experience as a professional counselor, it is that there is an abundance of interventions used regardless of which population you work with. I remember as a graduate student I was rather overwhelmed with all the options. It was in my graduate program that I first experienced the powerful intervention of Child-Centered Play Therapy (CCPT), which utilizes a child’s natural language of play to work through upsetting experiences and emotions while at the same time developing self-regulation through implementing clear boundaries and limits. Thrown into my first clinical experiences, I clung to this approach – how else was I supposed to do therapy with a four-year old? – but marveled as I learned just how powerful this intervention was.
There is one experience that cemented this as the primary approach I would utilize with a child. I was working with a young girl who presented with pretty standard concerns of emotional dysregulation and defiance. During one of our sessions, she had initiated a role play in which I took the part of “dad” that she assigned me, while she played the daughter. I do not remember the entire content of the role play, but she was dressed in her princess and tiara, decked out in play jewelry, and was visibly brimming with self-confidence. At one point during the role play I whispered, “what do you want me to say next?” – utilizing the CCPT structure of following the child’s lead. She considered for a moment, then whispered back “You tell me that I’m beautiful.”
I had to catch myself to remain “in role” and therapeutic, but I knew the significance of that statement. You see, this girl’s father was not a part of her life and had not been. On a cognitive level, this girl had accepted this fact and was able to discuss it in a very matter of fact fashion. Hearing that, though, I was struck by the profound need that was placed in front of me. In that moment, I heard the need of a daughter to have her father tell her that she was beautiful and that she mattered. I heard a little girl asking beneath the words of the role play “Am I delightful? Am I beautiful? Am I worthy of attention?” On a certain level, she accepted the lack of a father in her life, but her heart, deep down, still had those questions. It was an honor within the role play to affirm that core truth that she needed to hear, but it also cemented in me the conviction that CCPT would be my primary intervention with children moving forward. Its ability to penetrate to those deep needs, and to resolve emotional wounds, is something I have witnessed time and again.
Ian Masson, M.S., LPC, is a resident in counseling at Chrysalis Counseling Centers in Culpeper, VA. Ian received his certifications in Relationship Enhancement Therapy and Child-Centered Play Therapy through NIRE, and primarily works with children. Ian also oversees the Intensive Therapeutic Parenting Program at Chrysalis, a service that seeks to develop child-centered parenting skills through use of Dr. Louise Guerney’s Parenting: A Skills Training Manual.