It’s been 5 months since Tre started play therapy. And by “we,” I mean Tre…and I…and the Hubs. It’s a family thing. Keep in mind I started individual therapy after my father died in 2010 and I have been actively going since 2018, so I like to think I know some things about how this all goes. Well Tre’s experience of being in therapy has tested what I know and it has challenged me to look at myself, my parenting style and the dynamics of our family; not exactly what I planned when I set all of this up.
My therapist suggested art or play therapy for him because the clinicians literally use play to ‘therapatise’ the kids. (No that is not a real word, but I think you know what I mean and so does the Urban Dictionary!). So I went searching online for play therapists and lucked up to find a Black Woman-Owned practice close to me. I called and was able to set up an intake appointment within a reasonable amount of time. Following the the initial intake I conducted with the owner (who is also a practicing therapist), we got appointments lined up for him. Side Note; I made a point to tell the owner I preferred a Black or Hispanic male therapist and that is exactly who he got.
Tre’s reaction to hearing he was going to begin therapy was pretty calm and extremely matter-of-fact. He did, as he does with pretty much everything, have a lot of questions. I answered them and let him know that Mr. C (that’s the name I’m giving his therapist for this post) will work with him on strategies to cope with the times he feels super nervous and worried. Once we talked about it and revisited “the Turkey Hill Experience” he understood and said ok.
After his first visit I told him I was very proud of him for taking the step to participate in therapy. He gave me a look and said, “What’s the big deal?” My response: “Well the big deal is that not everyone is comfortable talking to a stranger about how they feel. Some people think it’s strange, it makes them uncomfortable and they won’t do it.” I told him that I go therapy and it has been very helpful for me. His response- “Ok!”
One of my goals for Tre entering therapy was (and still is) to keep it matter-of-fact for him and not make it a ‘big deal.’ Keeping it hush hush and making it a taboo topic will only grow the stigma associated with all things mental health that are already present in the Black community. Since he started I’ve come to learn some new things and I want to pass those along to other parents who are considering therapy as a support for their kids. It’s 3 points like preachers give you in church! Here goes:
- Be ready to participate
Can I be honest- this was (and is at times) a tad bit annoying. The first time Mr. C called me back following their session, it was to not only ask me general check-in questions (which I didn’t mind), it was to also go through a therapeutic activity. I went through the activity and did what I was supposed to do, but umm err uhh, I was not expecting all of that. I’ve since wrapped my mind around my participation being a requirement to Tre’s therapeutic plan. Tip: You will likely not be able to wait in the car or run an errand while your child is at their appointment. Be ready to sit in on sessions and…participate.
2. Be ready to ‘do the work’
I had some framework for the idea of helping Tre ‘do the work’ after talking with a friend whose daughter was in therapy for a while as a child. For us this looks like calling on the strategies I’ve learned when Tre needs it. For instance, Mr. C taught him a calm down strategy affectionately called “Hot Cookies.” When Tre is in the height of a nervous moment he is to pretend he just took a pan of hot cookies out of the oven, and with his palms facing up and eyes closed, he is supposed to blow to ‘cool’ the imaginary cookies. Try it! I have paused him to go through “Hot Cookies” several times. Most recently I’ve learned about the Cognitive Behavior Therapy Triangle. We are working on helping Tre change the thoughts that lead to anxious behaviors, that then lead to actions that cause him to go deeper down the rabbit hole. Mr. C told me to first acknowledge his feelings, DO NOT dismiss them. Then, I can help him move through the rest of the triangle.
Here’s an example: One day I picked up Tre closer to 6pm from aftercare (which ends at that time). When I got there he was in a panic and was crying because he thought I wasn’t coming to pick him up. His thoughts led to fear, which led to his tears. Since that day I have been more aware to not dismiss his feelings, but rather talk to him about his thoughts and suggest alternatives thoughts (and facts) like the fact he has always been picked up from school and has always been safe.
3. Be ready for the long haul
I’m pretty confident you’re in the parenting game for the long haul, but what about the therapeutic side? If you enter therapy with your child, be ready for it to not be a 3-session ‘fix.’ Now I can’t tell you when your use of strategies will kick in or when you’ll see your child use the techniques to help themselves. I can tell you that it will all take TIME. Because life is ever-changing and kids are still developing, they have yet to experience many things. So, changing their thought and behavior patterns will take TIME.
I said it before and I’ll say it again- I’m not a therapist or an expert. I’m a Mom who’s in it and who’s committed to this process for Tre. I wish you well with your quest to continue to support your kids through this thing called life. –krystal