Let’s face it, there is a huge difference in learning about a skill or technique (ie play therapy) by reading online versus doing or witnessing in person.
In the video below, I present a scene from a real play session, which I title “Very Special Building” after the child’s description.
Many of my readers are either therapists or caregivers seeking information on the therapeutic process of play therapy so I hope these posts on real sessions will be helpful. I’m hoping to bridge that gap between reading about a technique and seeing it applied in real life as much as possible.
I’ll also share the links to previous posts on toys and materials used. Please post questions and comments below!
Hello friends! I have not posted in quite some time, but I’ve been inspired to begin again!
I was shopping at a craft store recently and thought, I should just video this and share it on the blog! I’ve been a play therapist for many years and gone through many toys and craft items, and I still continue to seek out new materials and toys for the play therapy room.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping and some videos of me from a recent trip to the craft store. Enjoy! Read more
This time of year, many new graduates are seeking sites and supervisors for their clinical internships towards becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor and other related fields. This part of the overall process can be very stressful, as many new graduates are weighing their options.
Depending on where one plans to practice, those options will vary. Some sites have onsite clinical supervisors, meaning their board-approved supervisor works within the same building or company where the intern will practice. Other sites, especially volunteer and non-profit sites, will not provide a supervisor, and the intern must choose from supervisors in their area to meet with weekly.
Carefully choosing your supervisor is an important first step toward earning your clinical hours for several reasons: First, you will be working closely with this individual for many months, and possibly years. Second, your supervisor will guide you and mentor you through difficult and often scary situations. And finally, during this time you will learn how to conduct yourself as a professional, including how to determine ethical boundaries and best practices. You want a supervisor who can confidently offer guidance in these important areas. Below are helpful questions to ask when choosing your supervisor. Read more
Witnessing how much the kids loved the jumbo bricks, I naturally had to bring them to my play therapy room, and I’m so glad I did! Imaginations took over with the new addition and children incorporated the bricks into their play and processing right away. Read more
I received one of the most complimentary questions from a colleague this week, which was (in summary), “How are you so knowledgeable at this point in your career?”
First off, thank you for the compliment, Cindy! The answer is that I am constantly seeking knowledge. I don’t consider myself to be as knowledgeable as I would like, and I crave learning. I was blessed to have the opportunity to choose a career that I absolutely love. I ask questions of people who know more than I do, read books, listen to audiobooks, and attend conferences and presentations regularly.
Resources for Learning More
Below are the books currently occupying my attention lately. I think you will enjoy them:
This book by Brene’ Brown, Ph.D, LMSW is so far inspiring and thought-provoking. I am actually listening to this as an audiobook I purchased through iTunes. I have never read a book by Brene Brown before, but she is quoted in nearly every conference or therapy class I attend. Finally, after hearing her name again this past weekend, I thought, I need to see what the devotion is all about and chose The Gifts of Imperfection. Brown no doubt has a gift for words, so much that I find myself listening to one statement twice to really take in her beautiful words.
This is a charming book with rituals to build connection and bonding between parent and child. Bailey describes the benefits and goals of “I Love You Rituals” in the first part of the book. One paragraph in particular stood out to me:
One guiding truth about life is that what you offer to others, you strengthen within yourself. Stop reading this book for a moment. Think about your children and how much you love them. If they are at school or a room nearby, just wish them and send them a silent blast of love. Now, how do you feel yourself? Probably warm and cozy. You offered your children love and security by wishing them well, and you yourself welled up with love. The same is true when we offer criticism and blame. When we see what is lacking in others, what they are not doing, and what is wrong with the world, we simultaneously feel lacking. You cannot go through your day seeing what is wrong and go to bed happy. Self-esteem does not come from how others see you, but from how you see others.
An absolutely beautiful message by Bailey, and the book is filled with warm and loving rituals for parents and children!
This charming, colorful book is written for children, and I have been reading it with my child and adolescent clients lately. Education and practice on mindfulness is a common topic in my sessions with adults and children. This book has been a wonderful therapeutic tool to add in my practice. Here are a few questions within the book:
Why is the sun so hot?
Why do people make wars?
Why are there good days, and why are there bad days?
Why do I sometimes feel that everyone is against me?
I recently had the honor of attending a fundraiser luncheon for The Council on Alcohol and Drugs in Houston, Texas. Tom Arnold, actor and philanthropist, spoke about his own experiences with personal and family substance addiction. An LPC Intern under my supervision is a child therapist for the children’s counseling program at The Council. Among many other interventions, I have been particularly impressed with their Kid’s Camp. Held a couple of times a year, this camp offers a place for children who have parents affected by substance addiction. Children are given an opportunity to share their stories with others, receive education on substance addiction, and begin healing the emotional wounds their parent’s addiction has left.
Attending the luncheon and hearing from those who have survived and overcome addiction was truly eye opening to the impact that addiction has on families. According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, more than 28 million Americans are children of alcoholics. This statistic doesn’t include other addictive substances. When a parent struggles with substance addiction (alcohol, illegal drugs, and prescription drugs), the impact on children crosses all areas of their lives, including social, emotional, and academic. The list below only scratches the surface of this very complex family struggle.
Loss of relationship with parent. A parent who is seeking a high or on a substance high is likely to be emotionally unavailable for their child. Many children describe their mom or dad as “not the same person.” Personality and mood changes in a parent are scary for children and leave them with a feeling of insecurity.
Loss of relationships with other family members and friends. The nature of addiction is that a person damages relationships with loved ones and friends. The child’s aunts and uncles may decide they can no longer expose their own family to the toxic and unpredictable environment and friends of the addicted parent and no longer come around. In addition, the child may stop having friends over because of the potential for embarrassment.
Emotional problems: shame, embarrassment, anger, confusion, and frustration are just a few. Imagine the ongoing struggles the children face when parents argue, show aggression, nearly overdose, lose their jobs, etc. The list goes on, and so do the emotional struggles for a child.
Birth defects. Parents who use alcohol and drugs during pregnancy may pass these chemicals along to the baby. Other detrimental effects include poor diet, dehydration, and lack of sleep and exercise. WebMD summarizes these effects well.
Developmental impairments. Parents under the influence of substance use may invest less time with their babies and young children. Less interaction, meaning less talking and playing, with the child can impair their cognitive, motor, and speech development.
Limited social life. A child’s social opportunities can become strained in many ways. In addition to the broken relationships mentioned above, parents under the influence are not capable of supporting (i.e. scheduling and driving) the child to birthday invitations, sport events, and other activities that are important for building peer relationships.
Stress and related mental and physical health problems. The home may lack the warmth and nurturing the child needs, creating stress, hindering, development, and other physical problems as a result of the stress.
Academic disadvantages. A child may struggle with poor concentration, limited support resources (tutors, supplies, etc.), lack of parental support, and help with homework.
At riskfor their own substance abuse problems. Statistics indicate that children of addicted parents are at a greater risk for developing their own substance addiction. This is due to both genetics and environmental reasons including parent modeling, childhood trauma and abuse, and poor coping skills.
Exposure to unsafe environments and people and possible abuse. According to the NACOA:
Most welfare professionals (79.6%) report that substance abuse causes or contributes to at least half of all cases of child maltreatment; 39.7% say it is a factor in over 75% of the cases.
There are many children and families struggling with addiction, and we may not even realize it’s happening in our own social circles. Raising awareness is the first step. Whether you are a family member or friend, be prepared to support and love those involved. The family will need ongoing counseling, programs for addiction, and strength from those around them.
Sand art has been around for quite some time now, as described on Smithsonian.com. I love it because the final creations are beautiful, and each one is different in its own way. I incorporate sand art activities into play therapy sessions, as well as to help my own children learn about and cope with their feelings.
Art tray (optional) to keep the mess contained. I keep various sizes of the Creativitrays on hand. They are a life saver for clean up, whether it’s sand, paint, and other crafts.
Ideas for Using Sand Art in Therapy
Happy Feelings Bottle or Bracelet:
Identify various positive feelings: happy, peaceful, proud, excited, thankful, loved, and looking forward to…
For each feeling, choose a color and ask the child to tell you about a person, place, thing, or time that the child feels that positive feeling.
The child pours the colored sand into the bottle or bracelet while they talk about their memory or anything they associate with that feeling.
Talk to the child about how they can take this bottle with them to help them remember these positive feelings and memories.
Mixed Emotions Bottle:
Identify various positive and negative feelings: happy, sad, angry, peaceful, ashamed, proud, excited, lonely, frustrated, loved…
For each feeling, choose a color and ask the child to tell you about a person, place, thing, or time that the child associates with that particular feeling.
The child pours the colored sand into the bottle while they talk about their memory and association.
Processing the bottle: the bottle can be an analogy for how we all have lots of feelings. You can choose to mix the sand colors and describe how feelings often get mixed up and it’s hard to figure out what colors (i.e. feelings) are inside. Use this to reinforce that talking to someone can help them sort out their mixed feelings.
Feeling Loved Bottle:
We have all heard of friendship bracelets, so this idea is an extension of that done with a parent and child. This is especially good for children with separation anxiety or who have to be away from a parent for an extended amount of time.
The parent and child each make a bracelet.
They choose a few colors and describe something they love about the other. For example, “I love how you hug me tight when we are together and will choose purple to remember that.”
Talk with them about how they can wear their bracelet to feel close to one another when they are apart and how they have a special bond.
The image above shows my daughter’s sand bracelet creations (she wanted to make more than one!). I’d love to hear your ideas for using sand art with children.
After years of conducting play therapy, I continue to find new trinkets, books, toys, and supplies that offer a little something new to our sessions.
The latest and greatest are these quaint, wooden miniature chalkboard signs that inspire lots of creativity and expression. I’ve varied the way the signs can be displayed and used in my therapy sessions.
Written and visual words are powerful tools for growth
A client often chooses items (miniatures, toys, etc.) very carefully, as they reflect what’s happening internally. That’s why I love this craft item. It’s another way for clients to express their world and share it with me. Here are some tips for using these miniature chalkboard signs in theraphy:
Set out blank and worded signs. I wrote words and saying on a few signs, such as “Help Me!” and “Stop” using a metallic sharpie. I displayed the written and blank signs along with the sand tray miniatures in my office.
Encourage clients to write their own words. In the title picture of this post (above), you see a sign that a school-age child wrote “Peace!” and above that, the word “War,” which the child chose to scratch out. This child is struggling with a great deal of emotional distress and problems at school, and often reports feeling he/she is being attacked and in battle. How powerful and reflective, I think to myself, as the child continued to display the sign in the sand tray, playing out these intense feelings of war, distress, and the need for peace.
Creative art. In the activity below, I encouraged a child to use art supplies to create an image that expresses how they feel. Among the art supplies, I store the miniature chalkboard signs, along with wood people shapes by Creatology, and a page from the Melissa and Doug picture frame pad. The people shapes, chalkboard sign, and paper frame were colored and adhered to the page. I assisted as needed, but let the child guide the activity. We talked about the words and feelings expressed on the page to help the child process their current challenges.
These chalkboard signs have been really fun and creative, plus (big plus) they are inexpensive and easy to find. I bought mine from Michael’s craft store, but below are a few variations online that may interest you. If you find these to be a great addition to your therapy practice as well, we would love to hear from you!
I was recently forwarded an article by psychiatrist and Weill Cornell faculty member, Anna Fels, titled “Do You Google Your Shrink?.” Fels brought up several points that really connected with me and prompted me to consider the impact of our digital-age demands, and the value therapists offer as a result.
Therapists Are Now “Exposed”
Although myself and many therapists maintain a social media and internet policy, it’s safe to say that most people probably Google their therapists. Some may start out with the intent of learning professional qualifications and following blogs, but if personal information pops up (i.e. social media), it’s natural to want to click and read on.
Knowing clients and colleagues can learn personal information about me, I feel vulnerable and exposed at times. Although they will most likely find pictures of my family and friends, it’s the lack of control that is difficult to accept.
We are taught in training to minimally self-disclose, and only do so when in the best interest of the client. These days, if my cousin happens to tag me in the family reunion photo on Facebook, with fifteen other family members, I have no idea what or who my identity will link to in the vast world wide web. The impact this has on me in personal and professional life is still under consideration. In terms of my blog, I now write less about my personal journey as a mother and focus more on general parenting and therapy topics. Bringing in the right balance of personal perspective with professional boundaries is important for my own privacy, and to consider implications to my therapeutic relationship with clients and how my posts may affect that relationship.
Knowing personal aspects of one’s therapist isn’t necessarily a bad thing
In fact, Anna Fels suggests that knowing their therapist is a human being, just like everyone else, can be liberating for many clients.
“They feel like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” pulling back the curtain to reveal the wizard is a mere mortal. Therapists, it turns out, are just folks like you and me. Their authority is not a given, but something to be earned.”
I definitely find this to be the case in my practice. When clients see me as a person, wife, mother, etc. who is working with them in their journey, it strengthens the trust and feeling of acceptance in the relationship. As long as the information I share with the client is in their best interest and doesn’t cross a boundary for myself, I am willing to share these personal aspects of my life.
Living in our digital age, there is a constant stream of input competing for our attention
I see people on their phones in their cars, waiting rooms, standing in line at the store, and even when out with friends and loved ones. Children watch TV in the car, play on iPads in grocery carts, and attempt to bring their electronic devices into their play therapy sessions. There are endless demands for our attention, and it truly takes an effort to put it all down and be fully present with others.
Fels describes the therapy space so beautifully in her article, identifying therapy as “the ultimate luxury.” And to further paraphrase her, the therapy office is one of the few places left where one has the complete attention of another human being, with no other agenda than to offer a place of refuge, acceptance, and personal growth.
With email at our finger tips and instant social media posts, there are very few moments in our lives when we electronically disconnect and emotionally connect with someone as we do in a therapy session. Even children and adolescents notice their time with me is special because I offer undivided attention and unconditional positive regard. These are needs that social media outlets often steal from growing minds and peer relationships.
Therapy has always offered a special place for people to reflect and connect, but now with overwhelming input from online sources, our role as therapists is even more valuable, and in many ways, more transparent. Now, more than ever, people need a break from the mental traffic and psychological games to purposefully focus on their own thoughts and feelings…and just their own. As a therapist, it’s an honor to fill this need and be a part of people’s personal, inner world.
For further reading, The Couch on the New York Times Opinionator is an online publication about psychotherapists, their patients, and related experiences. Anna Fels is a contributor, along with many other talented individuals in the field. I’ll definitely be reading on!