Mark L. Brenner, MFT, Ph.D, is one of the most respected, national parenting experts in the field of early childhood development, adolescence and high-conflict family issues. In 2006, Random House selected him as one of the 100 leading experts in childhood development. Mr. Brenner has also taught at the post graduate level at Cal State Northridge. Mark is the author of 7 books including, When No Get's You Nowhere! (available in 5 languages) and the best selling, Raising an Adult (2007). His earlier books have been endorsed by John Bradshaw, Dr. Garry Landreth, Dr. Alice Ginott and Dr. Jay Gordon.
He is also the founder of Parent Fitness Training®, an innovative workshop based on his 4 habits of communication which help parents re-build their relationships with their children. In a relatively short period of time, parents can help begin to reverse negative patterns of their child's behavior that otherwise would have been left to the professional. His philosophy is, "If you change the parent's reaction, you change the child's behavior." Most parents who think they've tried everything, have usually tried the same old thing over and over again.
Mark's honest and no nonsense approach rejects the psychological double talk and labeling of children which is far too common among school psychologists and educators. "Sometimes all we need is to be educated about what we don't know, not analyzed. Known as the Family Whisperer," he helps children and families make stunning changes, and is one of the few licensed therapists who also make House Calls. He is a member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT), International Association for Play Therapy, and Associate Member American Psychological Association.
Mr. Brenner's practice is located in Sherman Oaks, California, which include Office Sessions & House Calls. (by appointment only) Two models he believes in strongly are, Play therapy and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.
Play therapy uses play as the natural language of children, the language of symbol and metaphor, to assist the child in safely and fully allowing the process to resolve the psychological tension created by stressful events in a child life. Children are able to engage with such difficult events because they are using familiar language and they have control of the play. The new scripts and schema that children create in the Play therapy room are then generalized to their external environments. Play therapists believe it is their job to understand children in their language, not the child's job to articulate his or her conflicts or dilemma, in the language of the adult.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a form of psychotherapy that emphasizes awareness in the manner of how we think about the way we express ourselves. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is based on the premise that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors, not external things, like people, situations, and events. The benefit of this fact is that we can change the way we think to feel / act better even if the situation does not change.
CBT has nothing to do with "just talking". People can "just talk with anyone. CBT theory and techniques rely on the Inductive Method. Often, we upset ourselves about things when, in fact, the situation isn't like we think it is. If we knew that, we would not waste our time upsetting ourselves.The educational emphasis leads to long term results. When people understand how and why they are doing well, they can continue doing what they are doing to make themselves well.
Does My Child Need Therapy?
Invariably and at different stages of a child's development, a parent may ask, "is this normal?" Should my son or daughter be doing that? Of course sometimes it's just a stage. Other times, it's an early indication of a more serious patter to come. If your child is excessively disruptive, withdrawn or exhibits frequent depressed behavior at home or in school, it might be wise to seek some professional advise. The good news is that with proper understanding and a good plan of intervention, your child can begin to feel a new kind of well being.
Choosing the right therapist is like choosing the right doctor and the right treatment philosophy. Some doctors are more aggressive and others more cautious and prudent. Therapy for children too can have its own risks, especially if child-therapist relationships keep switching, medication prescriptions are prematurely written, behavioral approaches disappoint or managed care insurance limitations short change a child's needs.
While it is not popular to say, far too much emphasis over the years has been placed on getting behavioral results at the expense of the "real well being" of the child. Children like adults, when emotionally dismissed, will conceal their true feelings. They begin to create a separate identity for the world to see, while underneath feeling empty and invisible.
Proof of this generational epidemic, can be seen in millions of adults attending healing workshops and life-coaching programs to conquer their buried fears and anxieties. Adults who are in pain themselves, soon realize that watching their child in pain and turmoil can no longer be dismissed so casually with expressions like, "oh she'll outgrow it!".
I practice what I consider to be the most effective treatment for children at risk: It's called "Play Therapy": the natural language of children. The spirit and mission of my practice includes my deepest belief in the value of child centered (non-directive) play therapy principles. If you're concerned about a history of disruptive behavior or want to find out more about your child's anger, tantrums, noncompliance, fear, grief, and general feelings of disconnect and sadness let's schedule and evaluation.
Why is Play so Important?
From our earliest memories, play remains the natural language of human expression. Free play is critical to healthy development. Children learn about their physical surroundings, capabilities, personal limitations, social rules and the difference between fantasy and reality.
In play, children interact with toys and other people as they enter new relationships, experiences and rehearse new skills and solutions. It is where they learn meaning, spontaneity and self-awareness. Play becomes the source and strategy for coming to terms with the challenges of self and how that relates to their outside and inside worlds.
When a child plays, he is a manipulator; he makes do with whatever is at hand. His imagination transforms the commonplace into the priceless. A small wooden block, found from under a couch and wrapped in a cloth, becomes a doll; a nickel thrust under a cushion becomes a buried treasure.
What Does a Play Therapist Do?
Perhaps no single question gets asked of me more. So what is it that you do, during those play therapy sessions, that provides such relief for my child?
Virginia Axline, one of the great pioneers of Play Therapy , had the following to say over 30 years ago about the role of play therapists:
"A therapist will behave in ways that conveys to the child, the security and opportunity to explore not only the room and the toys, but himself in this experience and the relationship. He (the child) will have the privilege of measuring himself only against himself. He soon learns that in this playroom, with this unusual adult, he can let in and out the tide of his feelings and impulses.
He can create his own world with these simple toys that lend themselves so well to projected identities. He can be his own architect and create his castles in the sand and he can add people to his world with the folks of his own making. He can create and destroy. He can select and discard.
He can build himself a mountain and climb safely to the top and cry out for all his world to hear, "I can build me a mountain or I can flatten it out. In here I am big!" He learns that in his search of self, he has opened the door to a broader understanding of all people."
With that understanding and context, it is easy to see why a child can unleash their true potential with the right play therapist. The privilege of measuring himself only against himself is rare and powerful. Unfortunately too rare! In school children compete against other kids, in the family system they measure themselves against siblings and parents and in life, against the stranger.
Almost everywhere, everything is bigger, stronger and more powerful than they are. The play therapist knows this and provides the right atmosphere and safe surroundings for the child to conquer those feelings. The result: The child can emerge victorious.
How Does Play Therapy Work?
Play has the power to show, through symbolism, feelings and thoughts that which are too complicated to say in words. It is a process that unfolds only in its own time, the same way as a flower can only reveal its color and blossom in its own time. A child, especially during emotional stress, cannot be rushed to reveal his/her beautiful potential. Only when that child is ready, the therapist is invited to enter their world. The secret to readiness can be expressed in two words: The relationship. A relationship based on respect, acceptance and full faith in the child's ability to grow into their potential.
This faith is not wishful thinking on the part of the therapist, but the profound respect, in the child's self-determination to find his way out of this confusing tunnel. Child psychologist Clark Moustakas noted; "faith is an intangible quality perceived by the child, largely through the presence of feelings, body language and expressions of the therapist. There is no clear cut formula by which a therapist conveys faith in a child. It is unspoken as much as it is spoken. It generates and inspiration and creates a feeling of well being. When someone has faith in us, we are encouraged to face ourselves and express ourselves as the person we really are."
In addition, children who feel respected feel that their interests are understood and valued. The play therapist affirms whatever a child reveals, whatever is expressed, whatever facet of a child's personality comes to light. It is a non judgmental feeling, a valuing, expressed directly to the child, in alive interactions between child and therapist. In these interactions, personal meanings are affirmed and supported.
How will My Child Benefit from Play Therapy?
Develop a new respect and acceptance of themselves and others.
Replace old patterns of reacting to another with mutually satisfying ones.
Develop new ways to exercise self-control.
Experience and express emotion in proportion to the interaction.
Learn to be more empathic to the thoughts and feelings of others.
Develop a renewed feeling of well-being.
What Age and Type of Child will Benefit from Play Therapy?
Children as young as 2 through adolescence respond to this native language and medium. Unlike adults who "talk out" personal issues and disturbances, children more naturally "play out"(in a safe environment), their secret dramas. Needless to say, intervention activities with teenagers are entirely different than those used with young children. Over the past 40 years, significant research confirms and supports the effectiveness of this internationally recognized intervention.
From marginal behavioral difficulties to conduct disorder, ADHD, anxiety/fearfulness, depression, aggression, impulsivity, and social withdrawal, play therapy has proved to be the most respected and most natural intervention for treatment. Play Therapy has been used successfully with children whose problems are related to life stressors, such as high conflict marriages, divorce, death, step families, abuse, relocation, hospitalization, chronic illness and natural disasters. Research suggests that on the average and in as little as 20 therapy visits, children can begin to resolve their problems and feel relief through this powerful process.
Is the Whole Family Involved?
Naturally, families play a critical role in children's healing processes as they move through this extraordinary play therapy process. The interaction between children's problems and their families is always complex.
At minimum, the parent(s) should always be part of a regular communicative process and plan to resolve the problems identified by their therapist. Other interventions including filial ( family therapy ) with one or both parents, to accelerate the child's process. Parents are in fact, the ideal agents for change when they are taught the proper tools and communication principles. In a relatively short period of time, parents can begin to reverse patterns of problem behavior that otherwise would have been left to the professional.
How to Look at Ourselves as Parents?
No parent today would argue that we live in a complex world. The reach of today's popular culture and events has traveled from our newsrooms to our classrooms. Teachers and parents struggle to know what to let in and what to keep out.
While that debate will continue for sometime, there is no doubt that the family system with the parent(s) at the helm, remains the essential force in guiding the developmental character in a child's life. Every parent wants their child to live a happy life. However, each parent has a different way of influencing that prospect.
As our daily pressures and tensions in life and family continue, parents sometimes teach lessons of self-control to their children through screaming, nagging, name calling, sarcasm, threats and sometimes even hitting. Anytime we react to behavior in our children that we dislike in ourselves, we need to proceed with extreme caution. The dynamics of everyday family life, gone unnoticed, have ways of repeating themselves.
As parents we do our best. In today's world it is harder and harder to do it alone. Truth is, good parenting is not intuitive. It's a learned skill. When adults first hear this, they sometimes react defensively as if this is an attack on their intelligence and commitment as parents. Parents need not be embarrassed in recognizing that healthy, effective communication is learned. Just by reading these few pages on this web site, you have extended your knowledge and understanding of what is required to help a child transition from a troubled phase to a safer and more healthy place of growth.
Leading child psychologist Garry Landreth, and founder of the largest Play Therapy Center at the University of North Texas reminds us, " Our society may well be on the threshold of recognizing children as people, not as play things, not as impersonal objects, not as sources of frustration to be tolerated until they mature, but as real people who possess unlimited potential and creative resources for growing, coping, and developing. Children are quite capable of teaching adults about themselves if adults are willing, patient, and open to learning."
In order for these changes to take place, parents must make extra efforts to evaluate themselves in relation to how and what they communicate to their children. If a child feels right, he acts right. As parents we make a hundred small decisions a week. They extend from how we help with homework to how we communicate when misbehavior continues or a limit is broken. Soon enough, these reactive patterns affect the well being of our children. The role of the parent is fundamentally guidance. Moralizing, sarcasm and lecturing is the fastest way to have your child shut down. Brevity is key. If you can say it in twenty words, say it in ten. If you can say it in ten words, say it in seven!
And finally, there is the most magical and wonderful feeling between you and your child when he says spontaneously, "Hey, let's play this!" When that happens, follow his lead, let him take you on his journey. Listen closely with your eyes, your ears and your heart. To help learn how to apply these principles or draw upon new resources, I hope you will find time to join one of my Parent Fitness™ Workshops.
- Mark L. Brenner, MFT, Ph.D
The contents contained herein have been provided by Mark L. Brenner, MFT, Ph.D, for educational purposes only and should not be construed as therapy nor legal advice.