If your child isn't acting like themselves, if they've become aggressive or depressed or anxious and you as parents start to feel like you are going to pull your hair out, you might want to consider seeing a therapist. When provided and guided by a professional sometimes child's play can be the best therapy.
Ruth Scherschlight, like most parents, knows her child well so when her happy easy going little boy suddenly started acting out in school and at home she knew she needed help helping him.
Ruth says, "I had a 6 year old who was dealing with a lot of grief. He lost his grandfather unexpectedly and within 10 days of that his father was deployed to Iraq. It was just too much to cope with. It started to manifest in school. He started showing aggression and started withdrawing. I knew I needed some help. This was more than I could handle on my own. I didn't want to drop him off with a counselor to be fixed. I wanted to be involved in the process."
Ruth and her son came here to the Avera Behavioral Health Clinic Outpatient Services at 33rd and Cliff in Sioux Falls where Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor Laura Schuldt taught both of them coping skills using play therapy.
Laura says, "It used the language of play to help children express what they need to express emotionally and also illuminates behavioral issues using a child's natural environment of play."
In play therapy the child leads the activity. Ruth's son liked to build thing with Lincoln Logs. Because a little kid isn't going to come right out and say I'm sad or I'm mad that Grandpa died and Daddy went off to war, Laura teaches parents to interpret the child facial expressions and behavioral and then she teaches them how to deal with that behavior.
Ruth says, "We aren't trained counselors, we as parents do try and do the best we can. Now I know when he's upset to calmly talk to him. If you get upset and raise your voice it escalates the problem. If I quietly ask him why he is upset, he starts talking quieter too. It works."
The family is an important part of therapy. In filial therapy the child and the parent play and Laura watches behind the glass. Then gets with the parent separately to go over what she observed.
Laura says, "The parent is always integrated into therapy because the parent is the primary source of strength and support and healing."
Ruth's son is doing great now. She calls Laura a miracle worker. She says the tools they learned at Avera Behavioral Outpatient have made life better for the whole family, tools that will be useful for a lifetime.
The nature of the play therapy process is adaptive so it can be tailored to the needs of the child.