Child’s play

Seneca Counseling and Psychological Services has added Jamie Fall, a professional counselor who specializes in play therapy with children. Originally from Ada, Fall holds a bachelor’s degree from Ohio Wesleyan University.

“I majored in psychology in undergrad. That’s just always been an interest of mine,” Fall said. “I actually started off as a pre-med major, because I thought I wanted to be a psychiatrist. When I learned what they actually do, I decided ‘This isn’t really what I want to do.’ I wanted to spend more time talking with people and not so much (with) the medications.”

During graduate school at the University of Dayton, Fall focused on clinical psychology and took an interest in psychological testing and specialization in children as young as 2. Having practiced as a licensed social worker since 1995, Fall also is a licensed professional counselor in Ohio.

Fall earned a master’s degree in counseling at Heidelberg University.

Her experience includes working with families experiencing domestic violence. She also worked at a residential treatment center, serving children with severe mental health and behavioral issues. For the past several years, she was employed in Findlay at a community mental health center providing services for children and families. She also has experience working with adoption.

“My focus has always been on children, although I certainly see couples and adults, as well,” Fall said.

During her time in Findlay. Fall often counseled children and families from Tiffin. By joining SCPS, she is making her services easier to access for children and families in the Tiffin area.

Children often are resistant to sitting down and answering questions, So, Fall uses play therapy, which includes specific techniques and toys such as a doll house, blocks and sand. She remains in the room with each child to observe and track behavior.

“There are different types of play therapy, but the concept behind it is that play is the language of young children, so that is how they speak to us, and that is how they work things out. Sometimes, we just have to facilitate that. When I’m in a play session, I just set it up so they are free to explore and free to express themselves. I mirror their feelings,” Fall said.

At first, the play activities tend to be repetitive and focused. Fall instructs parents so they can do some of the activities at home to improve child-parent interactions and to help parents manage their children’s erratic behaviors and special needs.

Fall said when she starts observing changes during play sessions, the parents usually are seeing changes at home, as well.

“It’s just very interesting, the whole process. I actually didn’t learn play therapy in school. I learned that through extra courses and classes. It’s not something that’s necessarily taught, but I got interested in it because the research behind it is that it’s highly effective, especially with young children,” Fall said.

She tries to maintain a non-judgmental environment for parents, who often are frustrated and overwhelmed by the time they come in for counseling.

“I’ve never had a parent in here who didn’t love their children, but every parent is afraid ‘You’re going to judge me’ or ‘You’re going to tell me I’m a terrible parent” or ‘You’re going to tell me what to do.’ That’s really not the case at all, and I try to dispel those fears very quickly,” Fall said.

Fall said she is willing to listen to parents’ concerns and give them some options. A few parents want to drop off their kids and say “fix them,” but Fall said most people are willing to change their own behaviors to help their children. She considers herself a partner with the family to implement strategies that will increase respectful and positive interactions.

“It turns out that children are not very motivated to change their behaviors. What they’re doing is working for them. … I give parents some extra tools that will help motivate children to change their behavior, to approach the situation a little differently,” she said.

As an example, Fall said most parents do not want to yell at their children, and most believe a child doesn’t like to hear shouting; however, a child might interpret yelling as a sign he or she has control over the parent. Remaining calm may be difficult but effective in altering a child’s behavior.

Children, of course, do not come with “operators’ instructions.”

“There would have to be a different instruction manual for every single child. They’re all so different, and families are so different. The nice thing is, there really isn’t just one way to parent. … We really look at what is the parent doing and is it working? That is the only questions we ask. If it’s not, let’s try something different.”

Learning more about the child’s condition can be very helpful to parents. Fall has conducted many parenting classes/presentations on creative, no-nonsense ways for parents to deal with their offspring. Sometimes, her instructions for parents are not easy to do. If one suggestion does not get results, she offers something else.

“A lot of parents see changes fairly quickly,” Fall said.

A stressful experience can trigger depression or anxiety, but heredity also may play a role. Research shows cognitive behavioral therapy is effective in treating depression, anxiety and adjustment issues for children ages 7 and older. It helps them to recognize distorted thinking patterns and how they can change the patterns to deal with challenges in their lives.

The therapist talks with the child one detail at a time to process the issue step by step and equip the young client with coping skills.

Fall has flexible hours so she can meet with people evenings and weekends, if needed. She said her caseload usually contains one or two cases of children with autism or a related condition, Asperger’s syndrome.

“If that diagnosis is going to be made, I make sure there’s kind of a team effort for that situation, and not just one person treating that. I often hook them up with a medical doctor who specializes in developmental issues and autism,” Fall said.

Most parents do not want their children in therapy for an extended time; however, the amount of treatment depends on the severity of the issues. Divorce, sexual abuse, witnessing violence or the loss of a loved one can traumatize a child.

For extreme cases, Fall uses something called trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, which includes a combination of play and art work.

“I’m really excited to be joining SCPS where I can add the tools of psychological evaluation to my work. I think this will allow for a much better understanding of the problems and allow better treatment outcomes,” Fall said.