Here are some statements that I frequently hear from parents and caregivers as my clients enter or exit our therapy sessions:
- “Go have fun with Miss Kait!”
- “Have fun!”
- “Did you have fun today?”
- “Was it fun?”
It doesn’t take an expert to find out that the commonality in these statements is FUN. And I have a problem with that.
If a friend, loved one, or partner dropped an adult off to therapy, would they encourage them to have fun? Gosh no! Therapy is not always fun! There can definitely be enjoyable moments, but therapy is focused on problems in an individual’s life. These problems are typically difficult and will be uncomfortable to work through.
So what makes parents and loved ones more inclined to tell a child to “have fun” in therapy?
Children are not the ones deciding to go to therapy. I have worked with some very impressive adolescents who have expressed to me that they were ones who decided to go to therapy, but a majority of the time, the adults are the decision maker in regards to mental health treatment due to children being underage. Due to the child being told that they have to go to therapy, I do believe that there are some instances in which parents want their child to think positively about therapy and have a good experience. Therefore, they will tell their child to “have fun” when entering therapy.
Another reason that families may encourage their child to “have fun” in play therapy is that we are playing. I do my best when starting treatment in explaining play therapy (check out my post How to Explain Play Therapy to see EXACTLY what I say to families), but it can still be easy for families to associate playing with having fun.
That being said, playing isn’t always hard therapeutic work. Playing can definitely be fun and there are definitely some fun and humorous moments that I have with all of my clients. However, in the playroom, we are using play therapeutically and that means we are doing hard work. Never in a million years would I call a child re-enacting their trauma a fun thing.
So what should parents or caregivers say to their children? If the “having fun” statement is a one time thing, I generally respond “we will definitely be working hard!” and cross my fingers that the parent will pick up on my subtleties! If the statements occur on a more regular basis, I have a conversation with the parent about play therapy and the therapeutic work that I am doing with their child and encourage them to make a statement in regards to the hard work that they will be doing in the playroom versus the fun.
Until next time, play on!