30 Jul

Parent Guide to the Phases of Therapy at Heart to Heart

Counseling centers and therapists can vary greatly on the types of therapeutic interventions they utilize as well as how they structure the counseling sessions.  Heart to Heart’s mission is to meet the needs of each individual within the family unit.  As a result, the therapy process at Heart to Heart is designed to create a healing space that strengthens families through personal and relational growth.  When children and families come to Heart to Heart, five phases of the therapy process exist.  Here is a brief overview of each phase of the therapy process at Heart to Heart.

Phase One: Providing Written and Verbal Information:  This phase consists mostly of completing paperwork and meeting with the therapist for the first time.  Parents/guardians complete intake forms and assessments.  The first appointment, called an intake, happens with the parents and the therapist.  Therapists use the initial information reported on the intake paperwork and additional knowledge gained in the first meeting to determine clinical diagnoses and lay the groundwork for determining how to best help families.

Phase Two: Therapist Observations:  After the initial paperwork is completed and the parents meet with the therapist, a parent-child assessment will take place.  This assessment continues to aid the therapist in determining areas to focus treatment on as well as reveals current family relationship dynamics.  Following the parent-child assessment, the therapist provides feedback to parents. 

Phase Three: Outlining Goals:  Next, the therapist and parents discuss treatment goals and therapeutic interventions that will be used to achieve these goals.  Once the treatment goals are agreed on, parents sign the treatment plan. 

Phase Four: Counseling:  The majority of the counseling process takes place in this phase.  The previous phases all usually happen within the first few sessions and are designed to set the stage for the therapy work to take place.  Phase four is where the heart of therapy happens.  During therapy, the playroom and sensory room are both utilized.  (You can read more about the significance of play therapy for children and the benefits of a sensory room in previous blog posts).  One of the goals of the entire therapy process is to equip parents with skills that strengthen their relationships with their child and give them new insight into ways to effectively communicate through their child’s primary language – play.  Modeling, teaching, and then coaching parents in the play therapy room allows for parents to learn and practice these important skills. 

Phase four, the counseling phase, is usually divided into four parts.  The first part of the counseling phase for parents is observing the interactions between the therapist and child during counseling sessions.  When the child and therapist are in the playroom, parents watch via a two-way-mirror or live (un-recorded) video feed. Therapists will discuss with parents the themes that come up during the counseling sessions using specific examples observed during therapy.  Parents will be introduced to new ways of communicating and interacting with their child from observing therapist and child interactions as well as from gaining insights through communication with the therapist.  Embracing these new interaction styles is especially useful as the parents enter the next part of the therapy process. 

The second part of the counseling phase happens when the parent joins the child and the therapist in the play therapy and sensory rooms as an active participant.  During this part of therapy, therapists facilitate healing interactions between child and parent as they experience the power of communicating through play.  Parents will learn how to engage with their child’s primary language, the language of play, as they join in with their child’s self-directed play.  This can often be new and uncomfortable for parents.  As a result, therapists guide parents every step of the way.  (Also, look for our next blog post about tips for parents in the play therapy room).

During the third part of the counseling phase, parents are often invited to facilitate the play therapy session.  While this may seem daunting to some, do not worry, the therapist will continue to support and guide parents as they make this transition.  In this part of therapy, when a parent and child are in the play therapy room together, the parent will have an ear pod in their ear that will connect them to the therapist that will be watching via two-way mirror or live video feed and providing communication to the parent in the moment.  The therapist will coach parents as they interact with their child and facilitate healing. 

The fourth part of the counseling phase is communication.  This part happens throughout the entire therapy process.  Creating a cohesive network of care for families is crucial in maintaining therapy success.  Therefore, therapists have regular check ins with parents as well as childcare and/or schools to discuss any arising concerns and to assess the child’s progress.  Regular check-ins can even be done via Telemental health phone and video options. 

Phase Five: Re-evaluate:  It is important to periodically re-examine parent concerns and complete clinical assessments to determine if counseling should continue or if the child can graduate from counseling.  It is a momentous celebration when it is time for graduation from counseling. 

Throughout all the phases of therapy, it can be helpful for parents to remember that every child and family is different.  No exact timeframe exists for how many sessions it will be before the desired results are achieved.  Therapy is a process.  In addition, therapy is HARD WORK!!  The Heart to Heart team feels privileged to be a part of the incredible healing journeys of families dedicated to doing the hard work of therapy. 

~Tasha Lehner MA

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