What Makes An Activity Therapeutic? More Thoughts

Note: This post includes a description of a conversation I had with a client’s parent, as well as a description of an activity completed in a session. Details about the conversation, client, and the activity have been modified to ensure confidentiality while maintaining the spirit of the story. No HIPAA violations here!

I’ve written before about what makes activities “therapeutic” and how this can look different when you work with kids. I repeatedly say, “It’s not my job to use a specific therapy intervention, but to make whatever the client brings into the session therapeutic.” Children cannot engage unless they enjoy their sessions and want to be there.

Photo by Olya Kobruseva on Pexels.com

Many of the kids I see like animals, so I try to incorporate this into their sessions. Recently, a parent asked me why their child said they had spent their appointment browsing PetFinder with me. I explained that there were multiple aspects of the treatment plan that fit into this activity:

  1. Rapport building. Like I said, therapy is not effective if the client does not want to be there. Choosing an activity I know the client will enjoy builds relationship and trust.
  2. Trauma work. Many animals listed on the rescue site come from rough backgrounds. This opens the door to discussing clients’ trauma histories from a distance.
  3. Social skills training. Animals’ personality traits and needs are indicated on the website. Sometimes I will have a client decide which animals might get along or how they might solve conflicts due to different personalities. We might also talk about which animals would fit in with the client’s family.
  4. Communication skills. With any telehealth activity that involves screen sharing, the client has to use their words (or the chat feature) to tell me where to scroll or click.
  5. Re-framing and flexibility. As with social skills, we look at the various animals’ listed personality traits. We discuss how these traits could be an asset or cause problems.

What activities have clients requested or talked about that you thought might not fit into their treatment goals or might not be “therapeutic enough” to do in session? Could those activities be altered or tweaked to fit the client’s treatment goals?

My guess is they can!

Published by Dr Marschall

Dr. Amy Marschall received her Psy.D. from the University of Hartford in September 2015. Her clinical interests are varied and include child and adolescent therapy, TF-CBT, rural psychology, telemental health, sexual and domestic violence, psychological assessment, and mental illness prevention. Dr. Marschall presently works in the Child and Adolescent Therapy Clinic at Sioux Falls Psychological Services in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where she provides individual and family therapy and psychological assessment to children, adolescents, and college students. She also facilitates an art therapy group for adolescents and college students with anxiety and depression. Dr. Amy Marschall is certified in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Telemental Health.

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