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.

Understanding apperception

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 process

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.

Therapeutic range

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.

Where it works

Some common troubles where this therapy can be applied include

  • Eating and feeding disorders
  • Children of divorced parents
  • Victims of sexual abuse
  • Children who are bullied
  • Fear, anxiety and insecurity
  • Anger and aggression issues
  • Childhood or teen depression
  • Low esteem and confidence
  • Truancy and school refusal
  • Child who has lost a parent
  • Enuresis and Encopresis
  • Social skills deficiencies
  • Inability to express emotion

Hidden defenses

What is typically hidden can get exposed with apperception therapy. Knowing about hidden defenses then calls for cognitive restructuring to mould the thinking appropriately.

  • Denial of any problem at all
  • Projection onto something
  • Passive aggression tendency
  • Improper rationalization
  • Optimism and self-assertion

Themes expressed

Children usually follow a particular theme in their stories. The theme forms a guiding point for dealing with their deep rooted conflicts.

  • Their high-achievement desires
  • Reactions to negative experience
  • Outlook towards relationships
  • Hidden emotions and sentiments

Hidden emotional state

Children can easily hide what goes on within their mind. Stories and pictures help give children an outlet to their own emotions.

  • Deep rooted conflicts
  • Dejection and distrust
  • Ego ideals and pride
  • Jealousy and hatred
  • Need for aggression
  • Yearning to dominate
  • Craving for nurturance
  • Avoidance of blame
  • A shout for affiliation
  • Wanting their voice heard
  • Wanting to break free