Play Themes and Uses for Jumbo Cardboard Bricks

Last year I purchased the Melissa & Doug Deluxe Jumbo Cardboard Blocks (40 pc) for my son’s super hero themed birthday party.  Inspired from an idea on Pinterest, we created a wall out of the bricks and the children took turns destroying the wall wearing enormous Hulk Smash Fists like the ones shown below. The activity was a huge hit and I’ll always remember that party!

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. (See images of themes below). Read more

10 Impacts of Substance Addiction on Children

10 Affects of Addiction on ChildrenI 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 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 story with others, receive education on substance addiction, and begin healing their 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 life, including social, emotional, and academic. The list below only scratches the surface of this very complex family struggle.

  1. 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 to me that their mom or dad are “not the same person.” Personality and mood changes in a parent are scary for children and leave them with a feeling of insecurity.
  2. Loss of relationships with other family members and friends. The nature of the 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 to the toxic and unpredictable environment and friends of the parent no longer come around. In addition, the child may stop having friends over because of the potential for embarrassment.
  3. Emotional problems: shame, embarrassment, anger, confusion, frustration are just a few. Imagine the ongoing struggles the children face when parents argue, show aggression, nearly overdose, lose their job, etc. The list goes on, and so do the emotional struggles for a child in the middle.
  4. Birth defects. Parents who use alcohol and drugs during pregnancy may pass these chemicals along to the baby, in addition to poor diet, hydration, sleep, and exercise. WebMD summarizes these effects well.
  5. 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.
  6. Limited social life. A child’s social opportunities can become strained in many ways. In addition to the broken relationships as mentioned above, parents under the influence are not capable of supporting (ie scheduling and driving) the child’s birthday invitations, sporting games, and making other arrangements for building peer relationships.
  7. 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.
  8. Academic disadvantages. A child may struggle poor concentration, limited support resources (tutors, supplies), lack of parent support and help with homework.
  9. At risk for 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.
  10. 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. 13

I believe 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.

Resources on Addiction:

American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress

NACOA: Children of Addicted Parents Important Facts

Handout: Effects of Substance Abuse on Behavior and Parenting

Sand Art Activities to Help Children Cope with Feelings

Healing with Sand

Understanding feelings, being able to identify our feelings, and sharing our feelings are important for a person’s emotional and psychological wellness. Happy, sad, angry, proud, afraid… these are all normal feelings. As a psychotherapist and child therapist, I spend most of my day helping others to sort out and cope with these feelings, and as a mom, I take time to teach these skills to my children as well. I’ve posted on the impact of sand play in a child’s life before, but I especially love the idea of using colored sand as a tool for teaching and coping with feelings. Read more

Therapy, Digital-Age Demands, and Why Our Services are Needed More Than Ever

Therapy photoI 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.” First, although

href=”” target=”_blank”>myself and many therapists in present day maintain a social media and internet policy, it’s safe to say that most people probably Google their therapist. 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, ff my cousin happens to “tag” me in the family reunion photo on Facebook, with 15 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 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 car, waiting rooms, standing in line at the store, and even when out with a friend or loved one. Children watch tv in the cars, play on iPads in grocery carts, and attempt to bring their electronic device into their play therapy session. 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 life 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 the over whelming 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!


Expressing Emotion and Mending Wounds with Meebie

I recently got a new doll for my play therapy room, the Meebie Play Therapy Doll. I had doubts and it took me about a year after first hearing about it to finally make the purchase. Before placing eyes and hands on the Meebie, I imagined it to be a little smaller, and it is such an odd looking doll I wondered if the kids would even be interested. The truth is that the doll is a great size, and even a little heavy, which I love. It’s purple exterior feels both soft and silky. It’s wonderful! I even have one child who now carries Meebie to the exit of my office as far as he possibly can go before handing it back. Fellow play therapists have used this with their own kids, so I’m sure I’ll be getting one for my son and daughter soon.

Below I share some pictures of Meebie after actual sessions. I would love to hear your feedback in the comments section on what you see in these images! Read more

Ideas for Building a Multicultural Play Room

Multicultural play roomAs our world becomes more and more diverse, the importance of creating a space for acceptance and learning of various groups within my play therapy room, and my own children’s play room at home, grows. Many people think of multiculturalism as consisting of racial and ethnic groups only, but this term also refers to many other characteristics that make up a group or society.

Examples of various cultures include:

  • Race and ethnicity
  • Religious and spiritual beliefs and values
  • Generation and age ranges
  • Geographical regions (mid-West; South Texas; Paris, France, etc.)
  • Profession/employment industry (play therapists, legal field, Hollywood, etc.)
  • Hobbies and interests (comic book fans, video gamers, long distance runners, fashionistas, etc.)
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Sexual identity
  • Marital (married, single, divorced, widowed, etc.)
  • Types of families (blended, divorced, foster,, etc.)
  • Gender

Below are some suggestions for art materials and toys to look for to help build your multiclultural play room. Please share if you know of other options!

Read more

Fun Activity for Sizing Up Problems and Feelings

Learning to be aware of our emotional responses to challenges and problems in life is one of the most important skills we can teach ourselves and our children. I have read My Book Full of Feelings (below) with children for years and often do related activities on the dry erase board. I recently made it into a felt board activity, which I share with you below.

The Concept: If we can be aware of our emotions, and the intensity of those emotions, towards a certain event, then we will learn to respond appropriately.

Example: A child decides to buy his lunch at school one day because they are serving his favorite meal. When he gets to lunch, he learns that the meal for the day has been changed. The child becomes enraged and claims he feels like he wants to physically harm the lunch and school staff for doing this to him. He spends most of his afternoon in the principal’s office and his parents are contacted regarding the incident. Appropriate response to the situation?

Steps to Process and Complete this Activity:

1. I have the children (an even teens and adults) determine appropriate responses and feelings for scenarios in each category (small, medium, or big deal).

2. I then present various scenarios and have them place it into one of the categories. I use made-up scenarios, as well as scenarios that have actually happened in this person’s life.

3. We review and discuss where the scenarios were placed in the triangle. Often, I find that clients with anger or anxiety problems will have “forgetting their lunch” and “pet dies” in the same category. This is often enlightening for them to see their “automatic” placement of the scenario.

4. We discuss and review any scenarios that really happened to them, and whether their response was appropriate at the time.




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Common Concerns of Children, Teens, and Parents (that I hear in therapy)

common-concerns-of-chidlren-and-teensAs a child and family therapist, I listen to people’s deepest worries and problems almost every day. While no two individuals or circumstances are exactly the same, there are patterns I recognize from  various age groups of clients. Below are the most common concerns of children, teens, and parents, as they are presented to me in therapy. Read more

Friday Wrap Up for June 13, 2014

Friday Wrap Up on Kim"s Counseling Corner. Best online finds from the week.

DSM-V: Implications for Children and Adolescents

This is a great article on Liana Lowenstein’s site this week that shares important changes  child therapists need to be aware of in the latest DSM. I find I am still learning every day!

Family Mail by Let’s Explore

I have actually done this before, just slightly different. I was seeing sisters in therapy who were not getting along. The were fighting and hitting most of the time and communication was extremely difficult. Each girl created a mail box similar to what you see in the picture to the right and attached it on the wall outside of their bedroom door. They were able to pass mail back and forth when they wanted to say something to their sister. We set some rules up first, such as no name calling on the letters. The girls found this to be a very helpful alternative to the difficult task of face-to-face communication. Read more

Welcome Bags for Play Therapy

how-to-create-welcome-bags-for-play-therapyAs therapists, our work with clients begins on our very first encounter with them. We aim to establish positive rapport, professionalism, and expectations for the therapeutic process. I am always looking for ways to accomplish these goals in my therapy practice. Most of this is done through direct engagement with a client and a therapeutic environment, but I always love to find new ideas to develop a unique and successful practice.

Coming to therapy for the first time can be a nervous experience for any client. In an effort to welcome kids and their parents to play therapy, I send home welcome bags after their first session. I include some items that are typically included in a calm-down basket, as well as information for parents.

Benefits of a Welcome Bag:

  • Helps establish a positive therapeutic rapport.
  • Provide psycho-educational materials to parents.
  • Communicate my commitment to their emotional well being.
  • Help spread the word about play therapy.
  • Market play therapy services.

Read more