Apperceptive therapy in children
Perception: the construct
Perception unassumingly refers to the implications that humans attach to stimuli that incite the use of sensory organs. The perceptual process allows people to experience the world around them. If we take a moment to think of all the things we perceive on a daily basis, there is an interesting blend of familiar objects and unacquainted ones too. The touch of the carpet against the skin, the aroma of a home-cooked meal and the sound of music playing in the neighbor’s apartment; all construct real and conscious experiences of the world and allow humans to interact with the people and objects around them.
Apperception is outlined as “discernment on the basis of preceding experience”. It is the predecessor as well as successor of perception because it organizes senses in the mental faculty only after the sensory experience has occurred. The classic example of “is the glass half-empty or half-full?” is the easiest way to understand apperception. There is 100ml of water in a glass of 200 ml capacity would be the ideal scientific answer. The perceptual process only tells us what we experience through our senses but it is apperception, which determines the response to what is placed before us. Hence it is very emblematic for someone who has had several negative experiences in the past to see the glass as half-empty (negative apperception), versus someone who has had reasonably good experiences and therefore thinks optimistically and constructively, assuring that this glass is half full.
The underlying philosophy of apperceptive therapy is to apprehend the client’s point of view, to gain an impression of his previous experiences and provide an outlet for him or her to reflect on a similar situation to vent emotions. Children are usually presented with cards having real life images that are most likely to involve different aspects of this child’s life. These include situations in the school, at home with siblings, activities with friends and families and alike. Children are coaxed to narrate what they see and then try and conjure a story that involves the past present and future of the events possibly represented in that particular image. By doing so, the therapist usually gains a better understanding of the prior experiences the client may have had and also the ways in which he is likely to encounter and deal with future situations.
Duality in purpose
Apperceptive testing is a time tested diagnostic technique. This single process of therapy has dual benefit; besides helping the therapist understand the child’s experiences, it also helps the child by serving as a safe outlet for catharsis of unwanted emotions. The child usually believes that what he or she thinks is gruesome and awful cannot be talked about; however when it expresses itself is in the form of an image, it that can be discussed with ease. This makes children feel relaxed and secure. They realize that the therapist will be able to understand when they narrate what the character in the image is going through.
Apperceptive therapy can be used with children having a wide range of psychological turmoil. A child who is ridiculed in class when shown an image of a similar situation where a boy is turning away whilst his classmates are mocking him, or a child whose parents are constantly fighting is presented with an image of 2 adults (mother and father) fighting whilst the little lad is helplessly watching; all reflect the child’s tendency to relive that situation and get vocal about it for his own betterment. Similarly this technique can be applied in a variety of contexts like sibling rivalry, temper tantrums, physical and sexual abuse, bedwetting, phobias and anxiety, eating disorders and more.
Duration of therapy
There is no fixed duration for apperceptive therapy. Sometimes a child may instantly benefit and start responding instantly. At other times, the child may be so traumatized that it may take several sessions to open up to the therapist and voice that mayhem in the mind. Depending on the responsiveness this technique may be used solely or in addition to other therapies like cognitive or behavior therapy that are likely to benefit the child.