One of the defining features of depression is a loss of interest in things they used to enjoy. This can make it difficult for young girls experiencing depression to feel rewarded by the positive coping mechanisms that they try to use. As hobbies and unstructured play are critical to identity development in childhood and adolescence, many parents are concerned when their daughter loses interest in socializing with others. Through his research, neuroscientist Dr. Jaak Panksepp has argued that play is one of our primal instincts, with the same significance as instincts such as hunger and thirst.
How Does Depression Affect Socializing?
Especially during middle school, where young girls are desperate for acceptance and belonging, being diagnosed with depression can make them feel distant from their peers, who seem to have more energy, joy, and people in their lives. Girls often adopt this narrative that they are “not like other girls” and purposely distance themselves from others out of fear of rejection. Or, they take experiences of rejection to heart and overvalue other people’s opinions. As they struggle to maintain a stable sense of self during this time, they are more likely to give up activities and hobbies they used to enjoy–based on other people’s disapproval, doubting one’s skills, and having less energy to dedicate to these things.
For this age group, meaningful relationships are developed through shared interests and experiences. So, losing interest in these activities reinforces feelings of depression and social isolation and makes it more difficult to connect with others. In a sense, depression disconnects them from their instinctive playful nature and leads to adopting a negative worldview.
How Might Play Therapy Help Young Girls with Depression?
At Asheville Academy, we are dedicated to applying the most up-to-date therapies recommended for working with middle school girls based on developmental appropriateness. We recognize that many evidence-based therapies must be adapted to meet the needs of the age group we work with. In the years we have worked with this population, one common theme we have seen is the importance of play and fun activities in helping young girls connect with others, boost their confidence, and change their outlook on life.
Play therapy differs from regular play in that the therapist helps children to address and resolve their own problems. Play therapy builds on the natural way that children learn about themselves and their relationships in the world around them. Some of our therapists have been trained in a variety of “play therapy” techniques, including Art Therapy, Theraplay, Sand Tray Therapy, and Recreation Therapy, in order to connect with the kids “in their court.”
Young people are more responsive to therapy conducted in settings and during activities they are already familiar with. Play therapy techniques have been lovingly referred to as “sneaky therapy” by our students, as they may not realize the therapeutic intention of a chosen activity until the end. This approach also helps students build trust with their therapist, as they see that they are willing to spend quality time with them and have fun doing interactive things, not just sit across from each other talking.
Why is Recreation Programming Important in a Therapeutic Boarding School Setting?
Recreation programming is central to the success of therapeutic boarding schools, just like sports teams play a huge role in the atmosphere of a traditional boarding school. In school-age children, most social learning comes from group activities rather than just one-on-one conversations, as they have the opportunity to watch group dynamics and apply the skills they’ve learned.
We’ve also seen that when young girls are strengthened and empowered, they make the greatest impact on their worlds. To balance the difficult emotions and experiences that they process in individual therapy, we try to center group therapy discussions on experiences of strength, hope, joy, and connection. Our goal is to help girls who have experienced depression discover their strengths and rediscover activities that they are passionate about. These activities become ways to connect with their peers through healthy social activities and healthy coping mechanisms that they can take with them when they transition home.
In addition to off-campus outings, highlights of our on-campus recreation programming Include:
- Recreation Building for Indoor Play, Community Meetings, and Drama
- Yoga Studio for Exercise and Reflection
- Playground in the Middle of Campus
- Small Lake for Summer Swimming and Play
- Multiple Fields for Play and Relaxation
- Full-sized Outdoor Basketball Court
- Miles of Nature Trails and Woods
- Sand Volleyball Court Adjacent to Lake
Asheville Academy can help your family
Asheville Academy is a therapeutic boarding school for middle school girls ages 10-14. Our students commonly struggle with anxiety, depression, ADHD, learning differences, and attachment issues. We are a relationship-based program that focuses on building meaningful connections through teamwork, group therapy, experiential activities, and small classrooms. Parents stay actively involved in their daughter’s therapeutic journey by learning skills through family therapy and workshops.
For more information about how we can help your daughter with depression, call 800-264-8709.
Cat brings more than thirty years of experience making an impact in the lives of adolescents. Cat has developed multiple programs helping children, teens, and young adults in a variety of settings and with a diverse range of diagnoses. She has dedicated her career to behavioral health and is honored to be part of the passionate team at Asheville Academy. She recognizes how delicate this age is and is proud of the role she and her team play in helping girls grow and prosper.