Child Grief Counsleling Certification Program: Using Play Therapy in Child Grief Counseling

Finding Grief Through Play

The mind of a child differs greatly than an adult.  This is due to an array of psychological and biological differences than stem from a lack of development in the brain.  It is important for grief counselors who specialize in grief and adolescent grief care to understand these differences because they directly effect how children grieve.
In the case of younger children, grief can be found in many things, most notably play.  The child’s need to play is not only for fun but is a way a child communicates and expresses herself.  Through this expression, a counselor or psychologist can find many clues about the child’s home life, school, beliefs, and emotional state.   A child who cannot play is denied her right to mourn.
Dr. Wolfelt in his book, “Companioning the Grieving Child” lists ten important elements of play in a child’s emotional life.  These are basic tenets of play therapy.
1. Play is the way children express and communicate
2. Play permits children to express painful and difficult emotions
3. Play is most often a child’s way to express the loss of a loved one
4. Play is essential for the bereavement counselor in establishing a therapeutic relationship with the child
5. Play helps the counselor understand the inner world of the child
6. Play increases and helps the child in his interest in working with the counselor
7. Play allows the child to utilize her imagination
8. Play is the vehicle in which the child can teach the counselor about her grief
9. Play helps energize and refresh the child
10. Play is a loving and compassionate way, one can help a grieving child
In addition to these basic concepts, Dr. Wolfelt recommends a variety of play techniques during counseling. Among the many, he encourages use of stuffed animals, puppets, dollhouses, art, free painting, drawing, clay, music, story-telling and books.  Through these therapies, the child is able to communicate things she is not able to vocally or maturely do yet.
The dollhouse can serve as an example.  The grief counselor can delve into the inner dynamics of the household simply by watching the child play with dolls in a home setting.  Is daddy always there?  Does mommy and daddy love each other?  Whose sad?  All of these answers can come to light simply through play.
Also from personal experience, grieving children can open up simply through drawing.  Dr. Roerick out of Youngstown, Ohio encourages drawing and coloring to bring out emotions of children.  Dr. Roerick is able to identify key emotions that correlate with color and other symbols.
The importance of play is critical to children.  Even if children are not grieving, as a parent, aunt, uncle or older sibling, can you answer affirmatively that you have played with a young child recently?  Give this gift to a child and let them teach you who they are through the process.
If you are interested in learning more about child grief counseling certification program, please review the program.
Mark Moran, MA, GC-C, SCC-C.