Social Therapy

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Children with impairment may experience any number of social challenges, such as social anxiety, relationship problems, depression or attention deficit. Anxiety, panic, shyness, or emotional pain can be replaced with emotional growth through learning new ways of perceiving, thinking and interacting. The effect of social therapy can be empowering. Often, pain is recognized and released. The child develops new ways to respond to people, situations and moments.

What is social therapy?

Having positive interactions with others, whether within the family setting, at school, on the job, or with peers can be immensely important to a individual’s mental health and well-being.

Those with physical or cognitive challenges often face real, and sometimes self-imposed, difficulty in building relationships. Delays in social, emotional and even physical development can occur simply because a child is having difficulty communicating, fitting in, or feeling accepted. Emotional, attention and behavioral challenges can impede a child’s ability to learn, grow and develop.

Social therapy, a relatively new intervention pioneered in the late 1970s, helps children develop strategies to develop friendships as they grow older. This helps decrease a sense of loneliness, isolation and stress the child may be experiencing.

Social therapy is an intervention that is based on groups, and the role of an individual within that group. The therapy was developed to help an individual who is experiencing psychological issues or anxiety to regulate their emotions and build connections to others by participating in group therapeutic settings.

Conventional therapy typically occurs between a single patient and a therapist, but social therapy shifts the focus from the health and welfare of a singular individual to that of an integral part of a group. This relational approach to therapy helps a child integrate into the larger populace, and understand his or her role within.

Common social issues those with Cerebral Palsy experience include:

  • Anxiety
  • Shyness
  • Emotional connectivity
  • Frustration
  • Sadness
  • Depression
  • Confidence
  • Self-consciousness

The goals of social therapy are:

  • Teaching children to learn through experiences with other people
  • Encouraging positive social interactions and cooperation
  • Helping children develop confidence
  • Creating sustainable social environments for children
  • Empowering a child to contribute to the group
  • Eliminating physical and psychological barriers to social interaction
  • Realizing the benefits and joy of interaction

What are the benefits of social therapy?

The benefits of social therapy are numerous. Children are naturally curious and are hardwired to seek companionship. Social therapy capitalizes on that attribute. Psychologists who practice social therapy are able to build on natural social abilities and implement a roadmap towards success in social situations.

At the crux of social therapy is the idea that the individual develop emotionally and psychologically in a fluid manner that is rooted in relationships with others, and that these interactions form the core of a person’s ability to connect with others.

The psychological benefits of social therapy include:

  • Enhancing relationships
  • Developing personality
  • Increasing creativity
  • Increasing productivity
  • Encouraging collaborative efforts
  • Encouraging learning by example
  • Increasing independence
  • Enhancing self-regulation and coping skills
  • Decreasing feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • Reducing stress and anxiety
  • Enhancing social skills
  • Encourages friendships

Sometimes, children with Cerebral Palsy often experience physical and psychological symptoms of social phobia, or an extreme, debilitating fear of social interaction that can cause a withdrawal from everyday life. Others are more isolated and protected from experiencing social settings.
Social therapy can help improve and alleviate:

  • Trembling
  • Nausea
  • Increased heart beat
  • Fear and anxiety
  • Embarassment
  • Abnormal sleep

Social therapy not only provides the skills necessary for participation in a group setting, it encourages families and friends to provide the child with special needs the opportunities for personal interaction in group settings.

When is social therapy advised?

There is no pre-determined time when social therapy begins for a child with Cerebral Palsy. However, if social therapy is part of a child’s overall plan of treatment, therapy will likely begin in early- to mid-childhood. Teen years are a crucial time in a child’s development, prone to peer interaction, acceptance, and participation challenges where social therapy may be helpful. As the individual moves towards work force development skills, social therapy can also help with integration into work and business settings and protocol.

Social therapy is needs-based; meaning when the need should arise. A psychologist, medical professional or an educator will make recommendations if and when a child exhibits discomfort, or expresses unease about social interaction. Parents may encourage social therapy for teens withdrawing from peer interactions. Work force development professionals charged with training and preparing individuals for skill development and job placement may also suggest the benefits of social therapy.

How is social therapy performed?

Social therapy is performed in any number of ways, using group and individual activities. General activities are often broad, but as a therapist learns more about a child, specific behaviors that may be problematic for a child will be targeted and therapeutically resolved.

For instance, if a child is over-reacting to the behavior of another person, the therapist would explore what is interfering with a child’s behavior, and give them the tools to cope with pressure and challenging situations.

Once behaviors are targeted, therapist will assist a child in:

  • Breaking down behavior into small manageable components
  • Arrange complex behaviors and emotions into a specific order to be addressed one-by-one
  • Identify working and non-working behavioral situations
  • Implement and teach alternative actions and attitudes

Those goals can be accomplished using:

  • Passive, or active, communication
  • Modeling
  • Feedback from others
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Group simulations

Where is social therapy performed?

Social therapy can take place in a variety of settings, but will most often take place in a clinical setting. All places that social therapy occurs, however, must be conducive to group activities, and spur interaction between members of the group.

There are centers that specialize specifically in social therapy. All therapeutic activities are overseen by a psychologist, who will act as a facilitator. Additionally, parents will also be taught strategies that can be deployed within the home to help streamline and increase positive interactions within the family unit.

Places where social therapy takes place include:

  • Psychologist office
  • Specialized practice
  • Mental health facilities
  • Hospitals
  • Outpatient centers
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Schools and education facilities

Who provides social therapy?

Social therapy is primarily performed by psychotherapists and social workers; those individuals who have an extensive background in mental health counseling.

Relatively speaking, social therapy is still new, and there are few specific regulations put into place by state governments, and little in the way of certification requirements.

However, it is in the child’s best interest that he or she participates in social therapy with a qualified practitioner that has completed some clinical training.

For example, The Camphill Community of California offers a work-based, four-year training program open to individuals in a variety of professions. This training program is specifically designed to help the practitioner develop the necessary skills to carry out social therapy concepts within groups of developmentally-disabled adults.

The East Side Institute offers an online certification program that is open to individuals employed in a variety of fields, including:

  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Public Policy
  • Education
  • Anthropology

The certification program is tightly –focused around the core aspects of social therapy, which include:

  • Human development
  • Creativity
  • Community engagement
  • Performance and play
  • Philosophy
  • Role-playing
  • Social theory
  • Therapeutic observation

What happens during social therapy?

Social therapy is built on the construct that children and individuals can learn and benefit by interacting with others.

The strategy is heavily dependent on group therapy and activities – those that encourage interaction in a safe and secure environment. In most cases, therapeutic activities like group talks, or even physical activities and games, are highly structured and organized because children with special needs thrive when they know what to expect from an activity.

Most activities in social therapy involve teaching, learning, reacting and self-discovery. Some activities that children may participate in include:

  • Conversation in small and large groups
  • One-on-one interaction
  • Games that require children to work together
  • Sports, activities and performances that require ensemble cooperation
  • Improvisational exercises to encourage group creativity
  • Group talks that help children cope with acceptance and rejection
  • Relaxation exercises, such as quiet time or meditation
  • Exercises to perceive and react to non-verbal, physical cues

For instance, in social therapy, conversational practice may include highlight skills needed for differing situations, such as a parent-child talk, teacher interaction, a date, and eventually a job interview. Conversation may focus on starting or ending a conversation within these situations, and how to express feelings appropriately, and with tact.

Are there risks or special considerations?

There are few risks associated with social therapy, but to ensure the best outcome for the child, it’s important that therapy not move forward too quickly. Children with Cerebral Palsy are already facing a myriad of physical, developmental and psychological issues, depending on the severity of their condition. By proceeding too quickly, or introducing too many concepts or activities, a child’s underlying apprehension – or social phobia – can be intensified.

Children with Cerebral Palsy may already feel self-conscious about their interactions with others. The point of social therapy is to expand a child’s social functioning, not drive him or her into a shell. It’s best to proceed slowly to make sure a child is not overwhelmed.

Therapy for Cerebral Palsy

therapy balls

Therapy for Cerebral Palsy

A person’s ability to transcend his or her physical limits is in no small part due to the kinds of therapies that are used to fine-tune his or her abilities. Therapy fosters functionality, mobility, fitness, and independence. The types of therapies vary based on a person’s unique needs, type of Cerebral Palsy, extent of impairment and associative conditions. Therapy can also help parents and caregivers.

Therapy for Cerebral Palsy includes


two friends hugging


When a child with a disability reaches adulthood, feelings about acceptance by others may linger. If young people learn to accept themselves during their formative years, explore interests, form friendships, accomplish, interact, and socialize at age-appropriate stages, it can help empower a sense of belonging when they’ve grown.

Learn more

For more helpful tips, visit
Managing Cerebral Palsy and
Maximizing Potential.