When I was three, I went to see a play therapist. I don’t remember much of what happened during those sessions. What I do recall is that the therapist was kind and warm. She sat back and observed me playing with action figures. The reason I was there (my parents told me later) was that I was profoundly introverted in nursery school. My teachers told them that I needed to learn more social-emotional skills. My social skills were underdeveloped to the point that the instructors recommended that I stay an extra year in nursery school. This way I could get more practice with making friends and interacting with other kids. Still, here I was in therapy as a child.
I was seeing a therapist because someone, maybe one of my teachers, believed I should see a mental health professional. Thinking about this now, it seems funny to me. I was only three and having trouble talking to other children. I didn’t have a severe developmental delay in speech or gross motor development. I wasn’t on the autism spectrum and I didn’t experience trauma (to my knowledge) at that age. So I’m wondering, was therapy actually necessary? I have no clue whether it helped me or not because I was so young. I do know that I continued to be shy well into my time at elementary school. I only found my voice later in the fourth grade, and once I located my vocal cords, I would not stop using them.
I learned that I was funny. I could make people laugh and I used that skill as much as possible to make friends. It was something that I would carry with me for my entire childhood and teenage years to make and maintain friends, even when I was depressed. Humor got me through some dark times.
Sitting here now, I’m wondering if those sessions as a three-year-old made a difference. My parents told me that after seeing that play therapist, I was able to graduate from nursery school and go to elementary school. They said that the therapist was helpful and I learned how to talk to people. They’re right; I can talk to people now. But, I’ve had 38 years of practice, well 35 if you subtract the three years, because I was three. Anyway, the point is, I’m not convinced either way that therapy helped me with my introversion or social anxiety because I still have both of those things.
I think therapy can help children process trauma. Play therapy allows kids the outlet to express emotions and such. Therapy is an essential part of helping children recover from serious psychological trauma. Still, the most important thing above all is that parents love their kids. If you show your kids that you care, that goes a long way. When you sit down with them ask listen, actually listen, to what they have to say and genuinely care, that’s how children get better. Therapy is secondary to this; it’s significant, but the first thing to focus on is loving your kids. If you believe your child needs therapy, then find a good therapist. There are definitely more severe instances than mine where therapy can certainly help children.