Therapy…looks different across the lifespan.
Children under the age of 10 process their experiences through play because play is the language their brains predominantly speak throughout early childhood. This is why play therapy is the most appropriate approach for young children.
As children’s brains develop and they enter adolescence, they continue to gain neurophysiological infrastructure that allows them to process their experiences verbally to a more meaningful degree. However, a storm of other changes sweep through their brains, bodies, identities, and lives, often making them hesitant to do so.
Activity-based and expressive arts based interventions allow the adolescent client to represent their internal abstract experiences in a very concrete external way. This creates powerful meaning making and also builds a bridge between the adolescent client and their adult therapist. In some ways, this is a middle ground between play therapy and traditional talk therapy, just as adolescence is a middle ground between childhood and adulthood. This is why a hands on approach is often most appropriate for adolescents and teens.
As tweens become teens and ultimately grow into adults, their brains continue to develop in ways that allow them to process their experiences verbally to a greater and more meaningful extent. At the same time, the storm of physical, emotional, and social changes that gripped them earlier, starts to make sense.
Older teenagers are urged into adulthood by parents, teachers, coaches, and other adult role models who treat them less like children and more like adults. Often, teens are ready for the same experience in therapy and prefer a traditional talk-based approach over activity and expressive arts based approaches.
But just as therapy looks different across the lifespan, so does it look different across clients. Some adults prefer hands on interventions like sand tray therapy and expressive arts activities because they are uncomfortable discussing painful experiences, they have trouble finding satisfying words, or because they make deeper meaning combining concrete symbolism with verbal expression. And some adolescents and teens prefer to just talk things through, finding expressive arts activities childish, unhelpful, uninteresting, or besides the point.
How therapists deliver therapy, and how clients utilize therapy can vary a great deal, often changing as the therapeutic relationship grows.
Therapy is primarily a relationship. How that relationship develops, deepens, and is utilized for client growth is an ongoing, collaborative, organic process between the therapist and the client, no matter what their age.