Dyadic play therapy is a form of play therapy that allows parents who have themselves suffered trauma, the opportunity to address their own symptoms and attend to the strained attachment with their child. But very often, the parents are resistant to this form of treatment. “For adult survivors of childhood trauma, psychotherapy can be both necessary and highly threatening,” said Mirisse F. Foroughe and Robert T. Muller of York University. The researchers authored a paper that explains the obstacles and benefits to dyadic play therapy. “The conditions and processes of dyadic play therapy may be experienced as threatening to parents by triggering early memories of intra-familial trauma while challenging avoidant defenses. Yet these very processes may be helpful in facilitating therapeutic change.”
Parents with traumatic childhoods may see the tools used by their children in play therapy, such as toys and artwork, as triggers for their own pain and may experience overwhelming and frightening memories and emotions. “Dyadic play therapy, with its focus on parent-child attachment, tends to activate the attachment system, making the process of therapy especially challenging for those who are much more comfortable closing themselves off from painful relational experiences.” The authors advise clinicians to realize this and take the necessary steps to be prepared for varying reactions from parents.
Several components of play therapy can prevent progress for parents. “In contrast to individual psychotherapy, the dyadic condition also inherently places the parent in a position of vulnerability, in part because they are ‘under the spotlight’ as a parent but also because, with the child present, the parent cannot dismiss attachment-related issues as readily.” However, they added that the benefits of this type of therapy can be enormous, for both the child and the parent. They said, “The pattern of interactions between parent and child often brings the parent’s own trauma history to light, and, with the acceptance and support of the therapist through this process, the parent can then become an agent of change in the parent-child relationship.”
Foroughe, M. F., & Muller, R. T. (2011, March 28). Dismissing (Avoidant) Attachment and Trauma in Dyadic Parent-Child Psychotherapy. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0023061
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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