Monday, March 10, 2008

Play therapy with sexually abused children

Hill, A. (2006). Play therapy with sexually abused children: Including parents in therapeutic play. CHILD AND FAMILY SOCIAL WORK. 11 (4), 316-324.

According to this article, situations in which sexual abuse has increased a child's separation anxiety can often be improved by including parents in play therapy. This allows the child to feel more secure in his/her primary attachment relationships, while presenting the often confused and uncomfortable parents with a positive model of interaction to emulate. It may also be beneficial for the therapist to witness and interact in the parent-child relationship which, if strained, can often exacerbate the trauma. It is noted that parents benefit from participating in the therapy by eliminating feelings of exclusion and jealousy they may have developed in response to the new therapist-child relationship, by countering feelings of guilt and failure in the role of parent/protector common to situations of child abuse, and by rebuilding confidence in their parenting abilities.

Possible complications of introducing parents into child therapy are discussed. Issues of the child's privacy and confidentiality are naturally raised, as well as the possibility that some parents might be unwilling to participate or counter-productive in the process. Suggestions or interventions by the therapist may be viewed as criticism by the parent.

Two case studies are provided to exemplify these points and to illustrate the situation of a child expressing anger towards his/her parents in response to sexual abuse (by someone else). While this is a common occurrence in play therapy, it becomes complicated when that parent is present. Lastly, it is noted that including parents in play therapy can counteract the "dynamic of secrecy" often imposed on the sexually abused child by the abuser.

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