Although various theories, tools and techniques are available to a psychologist, play therapy is the most commonly used when working with children.
It might seem like just a bit of fun, but play therapy is actually one of the most resourceful and effective tools for promoting self-understanding, development, and healing.
Through play therapy and fantasty, your child enters a metaphoric place where problems of the past and present meet possibilities of the future.
It is also a place for children to escape and make sense of their lives by creating and then reliving their stories. Super-heroes are unique, larger than life figures who by the virtue of accidents, gift, or legacy, possess powers and abilities beyond humans. Due to their popularity and appeal, super-heroes have found their way into the realm of children’s play therapy.
Imagination, Fantasy and Play Theories
From a cognitive perspective, play therapy has been linked to the growing child’s ability to assimilate experiences and in doing so, develop a sense of understanding and mastery (Piaget, 1962). For Piaget, symbolic play “provides the child with the dynamic individual language indispensable for the expression of subjective feelings for which language alone is inadequate”.
Vygotsky (1978) regarded fantasy play as a window into children’s understanding of their current reality, the limitations of their reality, and as a stage on which they can experiment with competencies beyond the constraints of their intellectual ability and experience.
How Play Therapy Works
In play therapy, a child enters the psychologist’s room and everything that happens in the privacy of these sessions provides privileged access to the child’s mind.
The psychologist helps create a safe and comfortable setting for the child to play and explore with their imagination, with as few limits as possible.
The counselling room is often referred to as a ‘playroom’ and equipped with carefully selected toys to encourage the child to express their feelings and develop healthier behaviours, through symbolic play.
Rapport is developed and built between the child and psychologist, and involves learning about the child’s inner world by play interactions in the therapy session. Toys, board games, families of dolls, animal figurines, strength cards, markers and notebooks are all extensions for the mind to become imaginative in therapy. Generally, younger children who visit me draw out or play out their given issues, problems and concerns from a parallel world to their reality.
The basic principle is that play therapy sessions offer an alternative reality or ‘dream’ for the child’s mind, to allow them to communicate, address any unresolved trauma, explore any repressed thoughts and feelings, and improve social/communication skills.
Often the child in therapy can play as they wish, however as therapy continues, specific play activities related to the child’s presenting issue may be introduced.
Play therapy can be both non-directive and directive. Non-directive therapy allows freedom of play and in therapy, children will be able to generally resolve issues on their own.
A directive approach involves greater input from the Ppychologist and is often more intrusive with specific instructions. The approach used in play therapy is dependent on the child’s current presenting issue.
How Super Heroes are used in Play Therapy
Batman’s story is familiar to most – Batman witnessed the murder of his parents and vowed to seek revenge for their deaths with a war on crime, turning his negative emotions into positive actions.
Batman’s symptoms and recovery route is consistent with trauma literature in psychological studies. Using Batman as an example in play therapy can also help children modify their story to suit their inner psychic needs.
Batman can be used as a catalyst for overcoming trauma through the use of techniques such as role modelling in Play Therapy. This allows children to process developmental functions including emotional release, and gives them a sense of power, hope and resources for problem solving.
Super heroes can assist children in accessing their unconscious fears/desires, and experimenting with behaviours beyond their comfort levels. For example, Spider Man has a strong level of responsibility as he grows in strength when in action. Similarly, psychologists help children use role play, as a means of allowing the child to take control and work through their issues, and help improve social behaviours and self-esteem.
From a child’s perspective, a super hero is a fictional character that is outside of their own immediate family, whom they can relate and look up to. These heroes have some burden or challenge brought upon them, and seek solutions to these issues.
Similarly, a child’s mind and belief system is also challenged in therapy, as they relate themselves to the super-hero in role play therapy.
Below are some examples in which super heroes are used in psychotherapy for the below relevant issues:
- Batman: Was originated from a story about an orphan child, with special powers of commitment to justice, science and technology. His weaknesses includes mortality and unique issues pertinent to therapy such as anger, isolation, grief and loss.
- Fantastic Four: A story about human survivors of a cosmic blast. Their special powers include elasticity, invisibility, power and strength, while their weaknesses include unconscious mind control, and no hidden identities. Unique issues that can be related to therapy include marital conflict, sibling rivalry, and power struggles.
- Hulk: The Hulk was a human who failed an experiment led by his father. His strengths include power, and his weakness is his anger/rage. Unique issues that can be discussed in therapy using Hulk include anger control, bullying, impulsivity and aggression.
- Spider Man: Also the story of a a human who become orphaned, then adopted, before a radioactive incident gave him special powers of strength, persistence and flight. Unique issues in therapy using Spider Man include losses, maturity and personal identity.
If you have any concerns about your child or the challenges they may be facing, and feel that play therapy may be of benefit, I invite you to make an appointment with me.
Author: Shokria Siddiqui, BSc.Psych, PGDipPsych, PGDipMH, MPsych, MAPS.
Shokria Siddiqui is a Brisbane Psychologist working with all ages, however she has a particular interest in children and adolescents. By implementing evidence-based therapies that have been scientifically tested, building rapport with her clients, and creating a safe therapeutic space, Shokria helps her clients and their families to better meet life’s challenges.
To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Shokria Siddiqui, try Online Booking – Mt Gravatt or call Vision Psychology on (07) 3088 5422.
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