Margaret Jennings reveals how children can open up with a play therapist.    

TUMMY aches, headaches, bed wetting and constipation may seem like normal everyday issues that a parent has to confront with small children. But, when the child ends up at the door of play therapist Myriam Clancy there is usually a lot more going on beneath the surface.

Cork-based Clancy, who has been practising for the past 10 years, says she has seen an increase in anxiety among young children due to many causes, but it’s not until they begin to express their feelings though play in a safe environment that the truth emerges.

“The anxiety might present through refusal to go to school, or with eating problems or with having difficulty with constipation — areas that the child has control over,” says Clancy.

“I also get a lot of referrals of children with headaches or tummy aches — it emerges the issue is not biological and when we worktogether the physical problems disappear.

“A child who is refusing to go to school for instance, may say it’s because the teacher is cross, but at the end of the day it may have nothing to do with the teacher or even school, but an entirely different reason. In the majority of cases the cause is not the surface one with children.”

Play therapy is non-directive and it allows children, who have difficulty expressing themselves through traditional talk therapy, to be more at ease in a playroom environment.

A play therapist may help get to the root of a child's behaviour

“Play is the ideal intervention for them and I have all sorts of toys, including specific ones that might, for instance, represent nurturance or aggression, so that the child has the vehicle to express their story through them,” she says.

Clancy, who also lectures in the CIT masters in play therapy, social care and early years programmes, says she first meets the parent and then visits children briefly at their home after the parent has filled them in. She tells children how her job is to help them with their worries in a confidential way and how they are the boss of the playroom.

After that, they visit her for an initial block of four weekly assessment sessions, but on average a child has six to 10 sessions. Generally, children work on their own with regular updates and reviews with the parents, unless the parent may need to attend a session for a particular issue.

The average age of referral is around eight, but the youngest has been three.

- Details on Myriam Clancy and other therapists can be found on

Top tips

Play therapy can:

- Help children express their thoughts and feelings.

- Help parents to understand the child’s world.

- Help children make sense of life experiences by playing them out at their own pace.

- Help the child to deal with conflict/angry feelings in more appropriate ways.

- Help provide the child with safe emotional support.



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