x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

No play therapy for nation's young

Doctors say a lack of trained staff means children do not receive treatment specifically aimed at under 12s with psychological troubles.

Doctors say children with psychological problems need access to play therapy - but the country lacks trained medical staff to administer the treatment.

None of the country's child psychiatric clinics had staff trained to offer the therapy, according to a study conducted last year.

The treatment involves children being given games and toys to encourage them to talk and laugh while building trust between a child and therapist. It can also be used for youngsters who find it difficult to take turns or socialise.

Dr Kanita Dervic is a child psychiatrist at UAE University in Al Ain, who says she is one of only two child psychiatrists in the country.

The most common problems children experienced were depression, anxiety and developmental delay, she said, all of which could be helped with music, art or play therapy.

"These are common and important therapies in childhood," she said. "Non-verbal therapies are very suitable for children because it helps to express what troubles them when their verbalisation is restricted."

Art therapy was particularly helpful for a wide range of problems, including depression, anxiety disorders, psychosis, trauma and loss, problems in school and at home, abuse and domestic violence.

One tactic is to ask patients to draw their "life road". "This can give clues on the patient's origins, experiences and future plans," Dr Dervic said.

Art therapy can also help people who suffer from anorexia by addressing self-image, inner emptiness or loneliness. Dr Dervi said it "adds an important dimension to the treatment of anorexic and bulimic children".

Music therapy is used to address the physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs of individuals. Sometimes it involves singing while, in other cases, instruments are used.

"It is especially useful when dealing with autistic children," said Dr Dervic. It can be used for pain management, depression, rehabilitation through movement and to ease muscle tension.

While art and music therapy are effective for adults, play therapy is geared specifically towards children between the ages of three and 11. It can be used for children who have suffered grief or loss, or whose parents are divorcing. Behavioural disorders can also be helped.

"These are all good treatments for those who find it difficult to express themselves in words," Dr Dervic said.

Collaboration was needed not just with medical professionals but also schools when it came to children's mental health, said Dr Deema Sihweil, a clinical psychologist at the Human Relations Institute in Dubai.

"We need to raise awareness in children to go to psychiatrists and psychologists to get treatment," she said, adding some children were still afraid of "the shrink".

"You don't need to be mentally ill or crazy to see a psychiatrist, you could just have problems with living," she said.

There can also be a language barrier and patients may feel uncomfortable about discussing their problems with a translator in the room.

Zarefa Abu Taha, a 27-year-old teacher from Canada who is of Palestinian origin, has considered using play therapy with her pupils, but doctors warned that the treatment should be supervised by trained professionals.

"There is no educational psychologist in my school," she said. "I am a psychologist so I am more aware of certain problems. The other teachers are not and use inconsistent methods."

 

osalem@thenational.ae