Using Video for Play Therapy at Sunstone Counseling

What parents can expect and how best to prepare your child

By: Jenny Stevens, Graduate Counseling Intern

The requirement of social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has forced us all to create new means of communicating and connecting with each other. At Sunstone Counseling, our services have traditionally been offered in-person. Thankfully, the ability to offer video counseling as an alternative has been a fairly easy transition for most of our clients. However, video sessions can be a challenge for children who participate in play therapy, which is typically provided in person in a playroom uniquely designed to allow them to express their emotions in safe, symbolic, and interactive ways. If your child is regularly seeing a Sunstone Counselor for play therapy, the therapist likely has discussed with you the possibility of transitioning your child to a new modality: Play Therapy via Video Counseling.

Access to video sessions continues to offer therapeutic connection through the child-therapist interaction as well as prioritizing the unique needs of each child. While this can be a challenging transition to make given the unique needs of every child and the importance of the child-therapist interaction, it can be done successfully and we are so thankful to continue to offer this online service. Counselors working with children are continuing to uphold the integrity of the therapeutic relationship through this modality and incorporating endless techniques and strategies that are supportive to each child’s growth. You can be sure that our counselors are always striving to maintain a good therapeutic relationship with your child, while continuing to work on their counseling goals, just as they would in person.

Here are some things you can do to help prepare your child for their video counseling play therapy session:

  • Before a session begins, help your child to transition into a state of readiness to work with the therapist. This may mean turning off the TV 15 minutes prior to a session, ensuring they have a few minutes to calm down if they’ve come from playing outside, or helping them transition from interactions with siblings/ parents to interacting with their therapist.
  • Ensure they are in a private, quiet room with few distractions, so they are able to focus on the content of their session. Sometimes children enjoy showing their therapist their rooms or playspace.
  • Have your child wear headphones if possible to increase confidentiality.
  • If your child likes to move or engage physically while sitting, provide them with some kind of fidget toy, stuffed animal, or other sensory tool.
  • Check with your child’s therapist to make sure they have your phone number (and keep your phone nearby), so they may contact you quickly if they lose a connection or have technical difficulties.
  • Your child’s therapist may ask you to have some specific tools on hand for them to use together in session, such as: paper, pencils/ markers, stuffed animals, books, etc.
  • Ask your child how they are feeling about making this transition to working with their therapist via video session and let them know it is okay to be unsure of this new modality. Most importantly, let them know that their therapist wants to keep providing them with a space just for them, just like in their normal sessions, and it is okay to ask questions or try different things to make them the most comfortable!

Here are some things you can expect from your child’s video counseling play therapy sessions:

  • Your child’s therapist will likely be prepared for their session with ready-to-go activities (such as asking them to draw a self-portrait, breathing/ mindfulness exercises, or feeling identification activities), so your child doesn’t feel as though they have to sit and talk through the entirety of their session. They may also incorporate movement and join your child in dance, jumping, or other ways of expressing emotions in their space!
  • Your child’s therapist may work with you to reassess their goals for the coming weeks, as they may have been changed or added to temporarily as a result of this period of extra time at home.
  • Your child’s therapist may offer to do extra Parent Sessions to help support your child through working with you.
  • Their sessions together may not last as long as they do in their normal office setting, and that is okay. Your child’s therapist understands that with this change comes the need for flexibility and the importance of responding to their specific needs!
  • Your child’s therapist may utilize online tools such as screen-sharing so they can play a game with your child or share a video or book.
  • Despite this change, your child will still be working hard on sensitive and potentially challenging emotional themes. Just like in their normal therapy sessions, they may need space and time to process these both inside and outside of their therapy sessions.

For all of the current children that we are already working alongside, having access to video counseling has offered wonderful opportunities that they otherwise wouldn’t be available. While this is a challenging transition to make, it can also offer wonderful insight for your child and their therapist that wouldn’t otherwise be available. For all of the future/new children that we will meet through this format, we are thrilled to connect with you and assist during this challenging time. Your child’s therapist will be able to observe them in their home environment, with their favorite belongings, and model for them that even in this time of change, confusion and uncertainty, we are so happy to still be available to support them. The therapist can also serve as a resource for parents who are learning how to provide structure, predictability, and joy in this difficult period of time.

Remember, we are in this together and an open line of communication with your child’s therapist is the best way to accommodate their unique needs so they can continue to be a consistent source of support!