Counselling children differs in various aspects from counselling adults. Children are still in a process of developing and therefore their therapeutic needs will be addressed differently. Furthermore they will make unique demands to you as a child counsellor during therapy. As a Christian child counsellor, you need to be able to integrate a Biblical view of counselling children with appropriate psychological models of child counselling. Furthermore you must have knowledge and skills on developmental and environmental aspects that may influence your work with children in counselling. You also need an ethical framework in which could serve as a guideline throughout the counselling process. In this module you will get the opportunity to orientate yourself on the foundations of counselling children from a biblical worldview.

Children can grow and develop in a counselling environment where they feel safe. Therefore the major goal for the Christian child counsellor should be to provide and emotionally safe and healing environment to the child. In order to provide this environment, the counsellor must be able to enter the child’s world, in an age appropriate way, through play. Counsellors, who understand the importance of play to children, are well on their way to obtain this goal. Asking questions and having cognitive conversations with children during counselling are counter-productive as questions often requires cognitive insight which a child developmentally does not yet possess. In this module you will get the opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills on how to enter the child’s world in a developmentally appropriate and culturally sensitive way, as well as to identify the different multi-professional role-players which may be part of the team when counselling children.

Play is the child’s language and toys are his or her words. Studying different models of play therapy would therefore be appropriate as part of a qualification in child counselling. The basic principles of play therapy also provide a strong foundation from which children can be ministered. Through making contact with children and entering their world, wounded and traumatized children are provided with a curative environment where they grow, change and be transformed to become what God meant them to be. In this module, the focus will be on non-directive or client-centred play therapy. This model of play therapy is part of the psychological theory developed by Carl Rogers. Daniel Sweeney (1997), a Christian play therapist in the United States, mentions the following about this model: “While I do not see Rogerian theory as necessarily compatible with Scripture, I am attracted to the focus of child-centred play therapy. Children deserve the same regards than adult clients do—to be recognized as children of God.”

In the previous module, you were introduced to the principles and practice of non-directive (client-centred) play therapy, which may be applied when counselling children. Some play therapy models, such as gestalt play therapy and theraplay, however, are more directive in nature. Directive play therapy implies that therapy is lead by the therapist who is responsible for the course of play. The therapist therefore uses play to interact with the child and to initiate and maintain the relationship with the child, reacting with warmth and empathy, based on the needs of the child. Directive play therapy is generally more short-term in nature, than non-directive play therapy. In this module, the focus will be on how the Christian child counsellor can make use of directive play therapy by integrating different models with a Biblical worldview.

Many South African children are affected by trauma because of high levels of violence, both within their houses and also in the wider community. Furthermore, a lot of children are experiencing trauma and accompanying losses on a daily basis because of the HIV/Aids crisis, violence, crime, divorces, serious illness and poverty. It is currently estimated that between 20% and 40% of South African children are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The latest available police statistics on child victims of crime, for the period 2005 to 2006, showed that 1 075 children were murder victims. Of the attempted murders reported, 1 378 were children. In this period nearly 24 000 children were raped. It therefore seems that South African children are exposed to events that are way beyond their control and it is not surprising that lots of children develop physical or mental illnesses. The Christian child counsellor has a definite role to play in the lives of these children and expressing God’s love to them in a cruel and unpredictable world. In this module the focus will thus be on obtaining knowledge and skills in counselling traumatised and grieving children within their developmental life stage.

Parent training is a very powerful tool in ministering to the needs of children. Research has shown that parents can be trained effectively as co-partners in the counselling process, by teaching them client-centred play therapy skills. This counselling process is also known as filial therapy or child parent relationship therapy. During filial therapy parents or other primary caregivers engage in child-centred play therapy with their children. The aim of this is to address the child’s problems in the context of the parent-child relationship, effecting changes in parent-child interactions. During filial therapy parents are taught how to make use of reflective listening, structuring and limit-setting skills during special play sessions with their children.
Filial therapy is applicable to children with a range of emotional and behavioural problems, such as children with oppositional defiant disorder, families with chronic illness, children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, children exposed to domestic violence, foster and adoptive children and parents, children with attachment problems and children in single parent families. Research during the previous 40 years has proven this intervention to be very effective in these different settings. In this module the focus will thus be on obtaining knowledge and skills in using parents as co-partners during counselling by teaching them child-centred play therapy skills.