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Why do puppets help?


Read what a clinical child psychologist has to say about why puppets are so useful in therapy:


“Children tell the puppets far more than they tell me alone.  Why is this?


The answer is simple: puppets give safe distance.   No child wants to see a therapist who fixates on her problems, nor feel there’s something wrong with herself. In my playroom, it’s the puppet who has the problem. And to a much greater extent than the child.  That’s the secret.  If a child is here for anxiety, puppet Miranda has hilarious, unreasonable terrors.  The boy here for anger meets puppet Pedro, who mentions unmentionable aggressive thoughts … the very thoughts children harbour and sometimes enact.  The boy can hardly believe Pedro feels the same way. And before he knows it, we are talking.  Other puppets join us, supportive “voices of reason.” Four-way conversations ensue between the troubled puppet, the helper puppet, the child … and oh yeah, me.


Puppets help bring the child’s problem comfortably into the room. They often speak for the child, making her feel not so alone and not so BAD.  Puppets are but one of many play therapy tools. But for me and many child providers, they open the door.  Puppets are exceptional delivery vehicles for Cognitive Behavioural Play Therapy.  CBPT helps children try on new thoughts and rehearse new behaviours.  And guess who models those — yes, the puppets.


Regardless of the mode, play therapy provides stand-in symbols (toys, materials) to represent feelings and people, events and things, wishes and fears.  The child’s imagination creates a buffer and a flexible “space” to explore tough stuff.  Therapeutic play allows the freedom to approach and retreat from uncomfortable ideas, memories, and feelings.  


Children open up about burdens such as obsessions and compulsions, low self esteem, wishes that one was “never born,” despair, rage and shame.  Play gets inner feelings “out on the table” so we can deal with them together.


The puppet-child connection is unsurpassed in early childhood psychotherapy.” 



Here’s another article, (abridged), written by an art psychotherapist recently.  


"The sooner you reach a child who is facing emotional difficulties in their lives, the more help you can offer them.....NSPCC figures show that mental health referrals for under-11s have risen a third in just three years. 


The numbers are alarming, but the benefits of intervening early cannot be overstated.  Primary school children who receive support of this kind are less likely to develop problems as they enter their teenage years....therapy can help reduce rates of truancy, exclusion, smoking, depression and crime later in life, sparing both children and their families an enormous amount of heartache further down the line.


There are three major problems that affect many of the children I work with: they have a relative with a mental health difficulty, there is a domestic abuse situation at home, or a background of substance abuse.  Children are deeply aware of their environment, and their home lives have the capacity to alter the chemistry in their bodies, potentially resulting in trauma at an early age....


When a child has been identified by a teacher or member of staff as requiring extra support, they are referred to me for counselling.  Once we have received parental consent, the children can visit the Place2Be room, which is filled with art materials, puppets and dolls...we hold open play sessions directed by the children.


Critics on primary school counselling say under-11s are too young for therapy, and that offering such assistance could feed the anxieties of the “Snowflake” youth.  But that’s not the case.  These are age-old issues that in the past have been ignored, and led to costs down the line.  We finally have an awareness of how to approach children in a way that could save them from problems in the future.”


NB. In both the above articles we are unable to credit the authors as their names were not mentioned due to confidentiality.




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