To help children with ADHD and their parents understand the disorder, some child counselors advocate adventure-based counseling with Adlerian Play Therapy. This therapy technique focuses on assessing the child’s family life, while also examining the communication patterns of family members using entertaining and informative methods.
During the first phase of therapy, counselor works to gain insight into how the children react to certain situations or ideas. Using chalk, the counselor draws a large circle, with smaller and smaller circles inside. The circles represent the comfort zones for the child, with the center circle meaning “most comfortable.”
The counselor asks the child to step up to the circle, begins creating scenarios, and asks the child to locate the circle related to his or her comfort with the scenario. Possible scenarios include: reading in front of others, acting in a play, and swimming in the ocean. By examining the children’s comfort zones, the counselor discusses with them why they chose certain circles, how they could become more comfortable, and what they learned about themselves.
After the beginning phase, counselors begin to explore each child’s lifestyle, encompassing their behaviors within the family atmosphere. Meeting with the children’s parents, the counselor discusses the structure of discipline in the household, the family’s values, and the general structure of the family. In order to gain a more complete view of the family structure, the counselor devises a game involving the parents and children. One game called “Crossing the River” has the counselor create a river by taping off two sides of a room that creates a wide space between.
Each family member must use a tile to get to the other side of the river, but there are only a certain number of tiles. The only way each family member can get across the river is by standing on a tile, so the family must work together to pass the tiles from one side of the river to the other. The game not only provides a fun activity for the family, but also allows the counselor to observe how family members communicate and interact with each other.
During the next stage, the counselor speaks with the families, talking with the parents about interpreting certain behaviors that their ADHD child exhibits. Typically, there are four goals of misbehavior: attention, power, revenge, and inadequacy.
Parents often have difficult interpreting these reasons for misbehavior, and might not understand why their child reacts negatively to certain situations. Often, a child misbehaves because his or she doesn’t understand why a parent tasks them to do a certain thing, so the counselor works with the parents to develop stronger and more effective communication strategies. One exercise for parents is a “building communication” game. During the game, the parents sit with their backs to each other, so each is unable to see what the other is doing.
The counselor gives each parent a pile of building blocks, and assigns one parent to the role of “communicator” and the other to the role of “listener.” The listener is not allowed to talk with the communicator. The communicator begins to build a shape, and upon completion, begins to instruct the listener to replicate the shape. The exercise is useful to show how communication might be interpreted differently depending on the person, and encourages the communicator to develop different strategies to get his or her point across.
The child witnesses this exercise, and the counselor asks him or her to relate it to a time when the child’s parents asked him or her to do a task, but the child didn’t understand. This shows the parents that they might need to develop different communication strategies with their ADHD child. Now with a greater understanding of the communication issues the family faces, counselors help the parents and children learn and practice new methods of communication and problem-solving. To represent this learning, a “climbing wall” exercise is introduced.
According to the researchers, rock climbing provides an interactive way for a child to learn new problem-solving skills. Counselors teach the children to relate each obstacle on the wall as an obstacle they face in life. The counselor uses the safety and support features of the rock wall as a metaphor for the support of others the child has in his or her life. With the support measures in place, the children should not feel inadequate or like a failure.
By the end of the therapy, both the children and their parents have gained more insight into the problems ADHD children face, and relate the play activities to real life situations. Instead of a rock wall, children might have quizzes or tests in class that they must face. The rock wall shows that even if a task seems improbable or impossible, with proper planning and the safety measures in place, the children have the ability to tackle their goals.