The Role of Child Therapy in Trauma Recovery

By Ally Macleod

Hope. It is a feeling of forward momentum, one expectant of what the future might hold. Built upon the foundation of hope, the Volunteer Invest Programme was founded in 2015 by Arms Around The Child to better improve the lives of children in South Africa and India, many of whom have fall victim to abuse, illness and neglect.

The challenges both countries face in the battle with HIV are complex and pervasive, with children suffering from extreme trauma in infancy, childhood and adolescence. In 2015, it was revealed over 2.3 million children had been orphaned by HIV in South Africa, identifying them as the most vulnerable to the threat of child abuse. The estimated 13,000 children affected by HIV in India face risk of abandonment in a country where infection is heavily stigmatised, often causing relatives to cast children away from their homes forever.

To provide support to children who have experienced irrevocable trauma, Volunteer Invest has been working with volunteers and child psychologists to provide child therapy to victims at AATC supported projects. Child Therapy plays a central role in helping young children overcome the fear their experience has left behind, by dismantling the barriers of mistrust and fear with unstructured play and a familiar setting where children feel safe and secure.

Child Therapy versus Adult Therapy

Although not disconnected from one another child therapy differs greatly from the psychology practices used in adult therapy, with the focus of looking forward, and largely relying on play as a vehicle to assess and intercept where appropriate in response. Young children in particular lack the words and communication skills to explain their fears, and as 29% of children subjected to sexual abuse in South Africa in 2009/10 were 0-10 years old, play therapy is a key method of giving a child the means of sharing their feelings.

How it works

It is possible to establish three different stages a child will move through in therapy. The first initial phase centres around building a relationship with the child with a gentle, non-intrusive presence; the foundations of which should ideally be laid at the stage of early intervention (insert link). The child is free to play, and the therapist answers any questions, but does not ask them. The second stage or mid phase should see the child reaching out by involving the therapist in play, and show a willingness to communicate their feelings drawing, writing, acting or speaking. By using make-believe and toys, the child provides clues to what they love, what they fear, and what they would like to have or feel. The third phase encourages the child to freely communicate their thoughts and concerns, while the therapist  develops a clear picture of the individual child’s needs to provide strategies and targets for the child’s future development.

By tackling trauma with play therapy, volunteers help child victims step forward into a brighter future, with hope and confidence, their eyes and heart focused on the future path which lays before them.

If you have hope, kindness and the dedication to be a first-rate, loyal playmate, you could be just be the person to turn a little somebody’s life around.

Interested in the issues discussed in this article? Check out our Child Development Programme Page or speak to the Volunteer Invest team direct.

Ally MacLeod is a freelance writer and storyteller, who enjoys writing to inspire positive change. Drop her a line here