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An adult reaches into her backpack, pulls a sock onto her hand and says, “My puppet wonders why your puppet is sad today.” This sounds like child’s play, explains Christina Helm, MA, but it is truly serious work.
Helm is a licensed professional counselor and supervises therapists in the Family Solutions for Kids (FSK) program for PCHAS. The program offers intensive in-home counseling for parents who are dealing with a crisis and helps them improve their family relationships. The staff are trained in Theraplay, a technique designed for biological and foster families as well as for high-risk cases and early interventions. Licensed counselors, psychologists and social workers rely on this treatment to improve daily routines, strengthen relationships and build parenting skills.
The FSK team utilizes different types of Theraplay depending on the family’s issues and the age of the child. A therapist may use a toy phone to ask a small child, “What happened before you had a time-out today? What was that like?” Another day she may invite a child to sketch a picture of a real-life event and then talk about the drawing, which may be easier than discussing the actual event.
Puppets as simple as a sock or paper bag can be remarkably effective with children under 10, Helm says. As a therapist, she may prompt a three-way conversation between herself, a parent and a child, “but the puppets do the talking. Kids feel less self-conscious about dealing with hard questions. The element of play lets kids – and their parents – relax and speak more from the heart
“We’re able to teach parents to play with their child in a way that feels safe and improves healthy communication,” Helm explains. “Theraplay draws on theories of attachment and developmental theory, so it’s a good fit with the PCHAS philosophy of meeting clients where they are.”
PCHAS helps families in crisis stay together at no cost, regardless of their financial standing. They may be facing divorce, illness, homelessness, substance abuse or even the death of a parent. Call 800-888-1904 or contact us online to find a program near you.