Different Forms of Therapy for Children

11 Jan 2022
Discover the power of different therapy forms for children with disabilities, evidence-based practices and parental involvement strategies.

Therapy for Children with Disabilities

When it comes to therapy for children with disabilities, it is crucial to utilize evidence-based practices and select therapies that are tailored to meet the individual needs of each child.

Evidence-Based Practices

Federal laws such as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA '04) mandate the use of evidence-based academic and behavioral practices for children with disabilities, including autism [1]. The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder has identified 27 evidence-based practices that have shown positive outcomes for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

These evidence-based practices are backed by research and have demonstrated effectiveness in improving outcomes for children with disabilities. They provide a reliable framework for therapists and educators to implement interventions that are grounded in scientific evidence.

Individualized Therapy Selection

While evidence-based practices serve as a foundation, it is important to recognize that therapy should be tailored to the unique needs of each child. The expertise of the therapists, available resources, and the specific goals and challenges of the child should be considered when selecting and implementing therapy approaches [1].

By taking an individualized approach, therapists can address the specific strengths, weaknesses, and goals of each child. Personalizing therapy ensures that the child receives the most effective interventions and maximizes their potential for growth and development.

Therapy for children with disabilities encompasses a range of approaches and techniques, including behavior therapy, play therapy, and various therapy approaches. The key is to find the right combination of evidence-based practices and individualized therapy selection to provide the best possible outcomes for children with disabilities.

Behavior Therapy for Children

Behavior therapy is a widely used approach in helping children with disabilities. It focuses on teaching children and their families how to strengthen positive behaviors and reduce problem behaviors. Two common forms of behavior therapy are behavior management training and cognitive-behavior therapy.

Behavior Management Training

Behavior management training involves working with parents to learn effective strategies for managing their child's behavior. It equips parents with skills to reinforce positive behaviors and address problematic behaviors. By implementing consistent and structured techniques, parents can create a supportive environment that promotes positive behavior [2].

Parent training in behavior management is an effective therapy type. Therapists collaborate with parents to develop practical strategies that can be applied at home or during therapy sessions. This collaborative approach empowers parents to actively participate in their child's therapy and reinforces the skills learned in therapy sessions.

Cognitive-Behavior Therapy

Cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) is another form of therapy commonly used for children with disabilities. This therapy approach focuses on identifying and changing negative thoughts and emotions that influence a child's behavior. By helping children recognize and modify these thoughts and emotional reactions, CBT aims to promote healthier behaviors and coping mechanisms [2].

CBT typically involves a structured and goal-oriented process. The therapist works closely with the child to identify specific thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that contribute to difficulties. Through various techniques such as cognitive restructuring and problem-solving, the child learns to challenge negative thoughts and develop more positive and adaptive ways of thinking.

Different types of therapy are more effective for certain childhood problems. Behavior therapy, including behavior management training, is often effective for common conditions such as ADHD, behavior disorders, anxiety, or depression. Cognitive-behavior therapy can be particularly helpful in addressing negative thoughts and emotions that impact a child's behavior [2].

It's important to note that therapy effectiveness varies depending on the specific needs of the child and family. A comprehensive evaluation conducted by a mental health provider is typically carried out to determine the most suitable type of therapy for the child. By tailoring therapy to the unique needs of the child, families can optimize the benefits derived from behavior therapy and cognitive-behavior therapy.

Play Therapy for Children

When it comes to therapy for children, play therapy is a widely recognized and effective approach. Play therapy is primarily used for children, as they may not be able to process their own emotions or articulate problems to parents or other adults. It allows a trained therapist to observe and gain insights into a child's problems and help them explore emotions and deal with unresolved trauma [3].

Benefits of Play Therapy

Play therapy offers a range of benefits for children. According to Play Therapy International, up to 71 percent of children referred to play therapy may experience positive change, with some children becoming more creative or verbal as trust in the therapist grows [3]. Some key benefits of play therapy include:

  • Encouraging the use of language: Play therapy provides a safe and supportive environment for children to express themselves. Through play, children can communicate their thoughts, feelings, and experiences, often using toys and games as a medium of expression.
  • Improving fine and gross motor skills: Play therapy involves various activities that can help enhance a child's fine and gross motor skills. Manipulating toys, building structures, or engaging in physical play can contribute to the development of these skills.
  • Teaching coping mechanisms: Play therapy helps children learn new coping mechanisms and how to redirect inappropriate behaviors. Through guided play and therapeutic techniques, children can develop healthier ways to manage their emotions and navigate challenging situations.

Play therapy is typically used with children between the ages of 3 and 12, but it can be beneficial for people of all ages. It may be used alone or alongside other therapies and is practiced by various mental health professionals like psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers [3].

Play Therapy Techniques

Play therapy sessions can take different forms, depending on the child's needs and the therapist's approach. These sessions can be directive or nondirective, with the therapist either guiding the play with a specific goal in mind or allowing the child to play freely with few instructions. The therapist closely observes the child's behavior and participation, providing support and guidance as needed.

Some common play therapy techniques include:

  • Art therapy: Through art materials, children can express their emotions and experiences visually. Drawing, painting, or sculpting can help facilitate communication and self-expression.
  • Puppet play: Using puppets or dolls, children can act out scenarios, explore relationships, and express themselves in a safe and imaginative way.
  • Sandplay therapy: This technique involves using a tray filled with sand and a variety of miniature objects. Children can create scenes or stories in the sand, which can provide insights into their thoughts and emotions.
  • Role-playing: Through role-playing, children can explore different roles and perspectives, helping them gain insights into their own experiences and develop problem-solving skills.

By incorporating these play therapy techniques, therapists can engage children in a therapeutic process that promotes emotional growth, self-awareness, and resilience.

Play therapy offers a valuable approach to therapy for children, allowing them to express themselves, develop coping mechanisms, and work through emotional challenges in a supportive and nurturing environment. It is important for parents and caregivers to consider play therapy as a potential option when seeking therapy for their children.

Different Therapy Approaches

When it comes to therapy for children, different approaches are available to address their specific needs. Two widely recognized therapy approaches are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT).

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based therapy approach that aims to help children and adolescents understand and manage the difficulties they are experiencing while teaching them coping skills to handle challenging situations. CBT consists of cognitive and behavioral components, and sessions typically last 16 to 20 weeks, with one session per week [4].

In CBT, the therapist works collaboratively with the child to identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs that may be influencing their behavior. By helping the child reframe their thoughts and develop more positive and adaptive thinking patterns, CBT can effectively address a wide range of behavioral and emotional issues. The child learns strategies to manage their emotions, develop problem-solving skills, and modify their behaviors to achieve desired outcomes.

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) is a behavioral training program designed for parents of children aged two to seven who exhibit disruptive behaviors. This therapy approach focuses on enhancing the parent-child relationship and teaching parents effective strategies to manage their child's behavior. The therapist provides coaching and feedback to parents through a headset from behind a one-way mirror while they interact with their child.

During PCIT sessions, parents learn specific techniques to reinforce positive interactions, enhance compliance, and establish a strong bond with their child. The therapist guides parents in using these strategies to reduce challenging behaviors and improve the parent-child relationship. PCIT typically involves weekly sessions over six to eight weeks, allowing parents to practice the skills they learn in a supportive and structured environment.

By implementing therapy approaches such as CBT and PCIT, children and their families can benefit from effective interventions that address behavioral and emotional challenges. These approaches offer valuable tools and techniques to support children in managing their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors while fostering positive parent-child interactions. It is important for parents to consult with professionals to determine the most suitable therapy approach for their child's specific needs.

Parental Involvement in Therapy

When it comes to therapy for children, parental involvement plays a crucial role in the overall success of the treatment. Establishing rapport and maintaining effective communication are key components of parental involvement in therapy.

Establishing Rapport

Building a strong rapport between parents and the therapist is essential in creating a supportive therapeutic environment for the child. It's recommended that parents take the time to get to know their child's therapist and establish a positive working relationship [5]. This rapport helps foster trust and collaboration, ensuring that everyone is working towards the same goals.

During the initial sessions, parents should openly discuss their concerns, expectations, and goals for their child's therapy. The therapist can provide insights into the therapeutic approach, explain the strategies that will be utilized, and address any questions or concerns. Establishing clear therapeutic goals agreed upon by the parent, child, and therapist can help track progress effectively.

Communication and Involvement

Open and honest communication is vital in involving parents in their child's therapy. Parents should communicate openly with their child about therapy, explaining the reasons for seeking help and how therapy can assist in addressing specific issues [5]. This honest dialogue helps children understand and engage in the therapeutic process, fostering a sense of ownership and empowerment.

Parents should actively participate in therapy sessions when appropriate, following the guidance of the therapist. However, it's important for parents not to overstep or meddle in their children's therapy sessions. Trusting the therapeutic process and maintaining a balance in involvement is key for therapy success. Therapy needs to feel like it belongs to the child and not something forced upon them by parents.

Outside of therapy sessions, parents can support their child's progress by implementing strategies recommended by the therapist. This may involve practicing specific techniques or providing a conducive environment that reinforces the skills learned in therapy. Being actively involved in their child's therapy journey demonstrates support and reinforces the therapeutic goals.

By establishing rapport and maintaining open communication, parents can actively contribute to their child's therapy journey. Working collaboratively with the therapist, parents can help create a nurturing environment that fosters growth and positive change for their child's well-being.

Implementing Evidence-Based Practices

Implementing evidence-based practices in therapy for children can be a challenging yet essential process. It involves considering the specific needs of the child, the expertise of the staff, and the available resources [1]. Let's explore some of the challenges and considerations that arise during this implementation and strategies for successful execution.

Challenges and Considerations

Implementing evidence-based practices in therapy for children can present various challenges. It is important to be aware of these challenges to ensure effective implementation:

  1. Training and Expertise: Professionals delivering therapy need to have appropriate training and expertise in the selected evidence-based practices. Adequate training ensures that therapists can effectively apply the techniques and interventions to support the child's needs.
  2. Organizational Support: The implementation of evidence-based practices requires support from the organization providing the therapy services. This includes creating a culture that values and supports evidence-based practices, providing necessary resources, and fostering collaboration among staff members.
  3. Adaptation to Practice Settings: Adapting evidence-based practices to fit within the specific context of practice settings is crucial. Therapists need to consider factors such as the availability of resources, organizational structure, and referral mechanisms. Flexibility is key to ensuring that evidence-based practices can be implemented successfully.
  4. Monitoring and Evaluation: Regular monitoring and evaluation of the implemented evidence-based practices are essential to measure their effectiveness and make any necessary adjustments. This helps therapists track progress, identify areas for improvement, and ensure that the therapy is meeting the child's needs.

Successful Implementation Strategies

To overcome the challenges associated with implementing evidence-based practices in therapy for children, here are some successful strategies:

  1. Training and Professional Development: Providing comprehensive training and professional development opportunities for therapists ensures they have the necessary skills to implement evidence-based practices effectively. Ongoing training enables therapists to stay updated on the latest research and interventions.
  2. Collaboration and Support: Encouraging collaboration among therapists and providing support from supervisors and colleagues promotes a culture of learning and continuous improvement. Regular meetings, case discussions, and sharing of best practices can enhance implementation outcomes.
  3. Parental Involvement: Engaging parents in the therapy process is crucial for successful implementation. Collaborating with parents, providing them with resources and support, and involving them in decision-making can enhance the effectiveness of therapy and promote positive outcomes for the child.
  4. Regular Supervision and Feedback: Providing therapists with regular supervision and feedback from experienced professionals allows for ongoing support and guidance. Supervision sessions can address challenges, provide clarification on interventions, and ensure fidelity to the chosen evidence-based practices.

Implementing evidence-based practices in therapy for children requires a comprehensive approach that considers the unique needs of the child, the expertise of the therapists, and the organizational context. By addressing challenges and employing successful strategies, therapists can enhance the quality and effectiveness of therapy, ultimately benefiting the child's well-being and development.


[1]: https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/module/asd2/cresource/q1/p02/

[2]: https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/parent-behavior-therapy.html

[3]: https://www.healthline.com/health/play-therapy

[4]: https://nyulangone.org/conditions/behavioral-problems-in-children/treatments/behavioral-therapies-for-behavioral-problems-in-children

[5]: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/parent-involvement-in-child-therapy

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