Brenna Hicks, Ph.D., LMHC: Play Therapy and Relationships | Raising Parents #43

In this episode, host Dina Sargeant is joined by Dr. Brenna Hicks, Ph.D., LMHC, RPT, a licensed play therapist, author, speaker, and parenting expert

Parents and professionals may find it difficult to connect with children on an emotional level, hindering the therapeutic process. Play therapy bridges communication and connection between children and adults, allowing parents and professionals to understand the child’s inner world better and provide appropriate support and guidance.

Meet Brenna Hicks, Ph.D., LMHC

Brenna Hicks is a licensed private-practice play therapist, author, speaker, and parenting expert. Working exclusively with children and their families, she created The Kid Counselor blog to offer parenting and Play Therapy tips in 2006.

She has been featured in The New York Times, CNN, and iVillage. She earned her PhD from the University of South Florida, where she taught counseling courses.

About the episode

The concept of play therapy, a specialized therapeutic approach designed for children, has significantly transformed the way parents and professionals address emotional and psychological challenges. At its core, play therapy capitalizes on the natural tendency of children to express their experiences and emotions through play, offering a unique avenue for exploration, understanding, and healing.

According to Brenna, the play therapist’s role extends beyond facilitating play sessions. They act as a bridge between the child and the parent, guiding both through the process of understanding and connecting with each other on a deeper level. She emphasized that this therapeutic triangle, comprising the therapist, child, and parents, fosters an environment where trust and safety encourage emotional growth and healing. The therapist provides the necessary tools and space for the child to express themselves, helping parents to see the world through their child’s eyes.

Parents often encounter challenges when attempting to connect with their children through play. The discomfort of adopting new ways of interaction, combined with a lack of understanding of child development, can create barriers. However, recognizing that children process the world emotionally rather than cognitively can significantly improve these interactions. Play therapy offers a framework for parents to meet their children in a shared emotional space, facilitating a deeper connection.

Play therapy is grounded in the understanding that children are naturally equipped to address their challenges, given the right environment and support. It diverges from traditional therapy methods by focusing on emotional and developmental appropriateness rather than cognitive abilities. This approach is particularly effective for children aged 3 to 13, providing a platform for them to work through issues in a manner that aligns with their natural mode of processing the world.

Play therapy’s non-directive nature allows children to explore and address their issues in their own time and way. Therapists and parents can support the child’s journey towards self-regulation, expanded worldview, increased self-esteem, and emotional literacy through carefully structured interactions and verbal cues. These outcomes contribute to a child’s ability to navigate life’s challenges with resilience and understanding.

In conclusion

Parents interested in incorporating play therapy principles into their parenting can start as early as infancy, gradually incorporating more structured play sessions as the child grows. Consistency and commitment to these sessions are key to realizing their full benefits. By setting aside dedicated time for play, parents can foster an environment of growth, understanding, and mutual respect. 

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