The Therapist/Teacher Partnership: Getting Off on the Right Foot

As the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It also takes a village to heal one. Not only are parents an important part of any play therapy paradigm, but teachers are as well. They spend five, six, even seven hours a day, five days a week with the child. This arms them with an insight that proves vital to the therapeutic process.

Of course, the therapist/teacher partnership is obvious – a child can never have too many people supporting them. But that doesn’t mean it’s always an easy union. The initial conference is key: it provides the chance for clinicians to put themselves in a position where they’re viewed as an ally rather than a threat.

So, what are the keys to this conference? The underlying theme is validation (the more, the merrier the meeting!) and the following nine elements:

Element 1: No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care

You and the teacher have a lot in common: you both want what is best for the child. Coming at the teacher energetically from a point of compassion, understanding, and – don’t forget – validation, helps them to realize you’re in this together. You’re both rowing the same boat; you’re just using different oars.

Element 2: Handling this interaction as if you’re speaking with your best friend

One way to facilitate a helpful conference is to approach the situation as if you were speaking with your best friend. You can disagree with each other and come from a place of different perspectives, but at the foundation is respect, love, and empathy. Approach a teacher with the same mindset and you’ll up your chances of a meeting that matters.  

Element 3: The first few interactions can help determine the success

The first few meetings are, perhaps, the most important – they set the tone for the relationship. They are also often the ones that feel the most uncomfortable. Regulation – and keeping yourself grounded – can do wonders. Rely on neurobiology to regulate and integrate.

Element 4: The teacher will always know something about the child that you don’t

As mentioned above, teachers spend much more time with a child than you – it’s just the nature of their careers. Time gives them “inside information” that you simply don’t have. It’s important to accept and acknowledge this and rely on both teacher perspective and your clinical perspective to form the whole picture. Remember, you aren’t only there to talk; you’re also there to listen.

Element 5: No one will hear you until you prove that you understand their feelings

It’s easy to dive into a meeting headfirst, bringing all sorts of ideas to the table. But making suggestions without hearing the teacher’s perspective sets you up for failure. It’s simple: you must understand their point of view first and, only after that, can you be effective. Even then, whenever you make a suggestion, follow it up by asking what the teacher thinks.

Element 6: Move the teacher from an emotional state to the thinking one

As the clinician, there are certain cars you must steer. One of these is to guide the teacher away from a state ripe with emotion and into a state rich with solutions. Encourage a meeting filled with creativity and brainstorming – that’s how problems get solved!

Element 7: Handle disagreements carefully

Though you may do all of the above, disagreements aren’t avoidable. Handle them with care by going with the tension instead of shying away from it. And, once more, remember validation. People are always more receptive to a difference in opinion when you first acknowledge that you can see where they’re coming from.

Element 8: Your behavior can lock the teacher into a pattern of thinking or acting

Meetings like this activate the nervous system in ways that can render future conferences tense and unhelpful. Regulation, as it often does, comes into play here – in fact, it’s the star of the show. Regulating yourself is vital and it helps the teacher regulate herself too.

Element 9: Effective conferences are always based on planning

There are times in life where spontaneity enhances an experience – a spur-of-the-moment vacation to the beach, for instance. But a teacher’s conference is never a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants situation. The best conferences begin with solid, thorough planning. This isn’t to say you can never deviate from your plan, but don’t go in empty handed.

Teachers and play therapists make a dynamic duo, each wearing their own unique cape. While they are allies on an innate level, this partnership doesn’t solidify itself. Validate, integrate, and regulate. Only then can you celebrate the success of an effective conference.