Sesamie Street has made videos about important and serious topics for kids such as grief, divorce, and videos for military families and kids about deployment as well as other issues.
I am currently working on a certification in Play Therapy. I have attended a Sandplay workshop before and now I am studying all the research and different theories on Play Therapy at Capella University online. I will write a series of blog posts on different types of Play Therapy. Anna Freud, Sigmund Freud’s daughter, was the first therapist to claim that toys and play could be used with children in psychotherapy. The clinic she founded is still serving children in London today.
I have studied and mostly used Child Centered Play Therapy, the theory developed by Virginia Axline from Carl Rogers work and later developed by Gary Landreth. Through this program I have begun to have a great respect for many other theories and techniques and to use them in therapy. I really like Adlerian Play Therapy, Jungian Play Therapy, and Filial Play Therapy with parents and kids. Today I will share some of what I wrote about Experiential Play Therapy. Some of the posts on this site are ‘Readers Digest’ and others are more academic.
Experiential Play Therapy focuses on allowing the child to express his or her feelings through the symbolism of play. Building trust with the child, validating, expressing respect and supporting their expression of feeling is the important role of the therapist in this theory. The child first will use fantasy and metaphors, which they communicate with as early as age 2, and as trust and confidence grows the child will begin to recreate unresolved difficult situations more closely resembling reality (Shaeffer, 2011, p.187). EPT also involves the parent or parents if possible. The parents can even act in the role of the therapist with a bug in their ear and while the therapist watches and prompts them through a double-sided mirror ( Shaeffer, 2011, 194-196).
There are five distinct phases of therapy in this model: exploratory, testing for protection, dependency, therapeutic growth, and termination. In the exploratory phase the child is just learning what toys are in the playroom and their uses, as well as that the therapist is there as a support and not to make them uncomfortable. The therapist in this phase focuses on reflecting behavior and not so much feelings yet so that the child is not intimidated by focus on vulnerable emotions (Shaeffer, 2011, 188-189). In the testing for protection stage the therapist must convey that he or she will allow the child to freely express their emotions and validate them by acting them out and reflecting them for the child rather than not allowing these expressions or ignoring them. The therapist must set limits while also validating the child’s feelings and needs. Once the child surrenders to the direction of the therapist in setting limits the child will begin to trust and confront their upsetting emotions. This may lead to regressions at home in their behavior (Shaeffer, 2011, p, 189-190). During the next stage, dependency, the child begins to act out the traumatic experience as the aggressor and the therapist must effectively express the meaning of what the child went through in their experience of trauma. Then the child will switch roles and act out their own experience and the therapist must allow the child to overcome the aggressor as the therapist acts out that role (Shaeffer, 2011, p. 190-191). In the last stage, the therapeutic growth stage, the child grieves the loss of their trauma persona and begins exploratory play again to gain a sense of mastery. The child may regress to earlier stages of development which they missed out on because of the trauma and pretend to be a baby asking for nurturing, for example. In the termination phase the therapist must introduce the idea early in the session and allow a few sessions for the child to process the significance of the therapy and gain a sense of closure. The therapist must allow the child to express the importance of the relationship with the therapist and play and reciprocate that to the child (Shaeffer, 2011, p. 192).
EPT also harnesses the power of play for therapeutic purposes. In short, a picture is worth a thousand words and a therapist may enter that picture in ways that are not possible for an expression of an idea such as “I was so scared when this happened (Shaeffer, 2011, 193-194).” Metaphors and symbolism of toys or pictures also allow the child to express ideas with more emotional control over the level of arousal associated with traumatic memories (Shaeffer, 2011, p. 193). This is a good point about play therapy in general that emphasizes the importance of its use with adults as well as children.
EPT is best for children who have disorders that are related to some experience that was traumatic. Some of these include ODD, PTSD, SAD, AD, OCD, and elimination disorders (Shaeffer, 2011, p. 196). ADHD may sometimes be a misdiagnosis for these disorders as traumatic experiences can affect attention and focus.
EPT is a newer concept in play therapy but there is evidence to support its effectiveness. There are studies of relationship therapies that are experiential models and they have evidence of positive outcomes (Ray & Bratton, 2010, C. Norton & Norton, 2002). Another study which was very important in overcoming my skepticism and concerns, especially considering any court involvement, proved that the metaphors and symbols children use in their play are consistent with the actual events of trauma even at an early age of 2 years, for example (Paley & Alpert, 2003). Of course any disclosure of a child’s therapy and notes is used with discretion or by Judge’s subpoena. Decisions based upon the child’s play are considered in light of the whole case as well as the research and discretion given the ‘private’ and even ‘secret’ nature of therapy. There is also research on how the brain’s memories and processes are activated therapeutically through EPT (Shaeffer, 2011, p. 197-198).
Ray, D. & Bratton, S. (2010).What the research shows about play therapy: Twenty-first century update.
In Braggerly, D.. Ray, & S. Bratton (Eds.), Child-centered play therapy research. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Norton, C., & Norton, B. (2002). Reaching children through play therapy: an experiential approach (2nd ed.) Denver, CO: White Apple Press.
Paley, J., & Alpert, J. (2003). Memory of infant trauma. Psychoanalytic Psychology, (20)2, 329-347.
Schaeffer, Charles E. (2011). Foundations of Play Therapy. 2nd Ed. Wiley and Sons
Rachel Hofer, MS
kids trying not to eat the marshmallow. . . ‘Do or do not. There is not try.’ – Yoda
I have been teaching ‘Career Development’ at Santa Fe College and recently thinking about job skills. When I was in graduate school I found a description of the job I wanted as a counselor for Department of Children and Families, working with children who had been abused, and I put up the description on my mirror to remind myself of the skills I needed to work on. Now, some people would not at all want the job I was going for, but that was the one I wanted. Since then the counseling jobs were ‘privatized.’ I was finding the ‘skills gap’- that gap in one’s abilities between where one is and where one needs to be. This is part of setting the goals to quietly and patiently arrive at that dream job experience that, for me, was to also create a social change. Now, at Santa Fe College and in the counseling work I want to give some practical tips on how to gain skills needed for your dream job.
Most of the skills listed were not job-specific, but general ones such as listening, getting to work on time, communication, and ‘soft skills.’ The skills that are most important are those basic ones that are used in every job. Some of these skills could even be considered ‘qualities’ or personality characteristics, traits. Thankfully, there are practical ways to grow in these most basic skills, such as self-control, that are essential to success in life.
I saw this article from the New York Times come up, ironically, in my facebook newsfeed: Learning How to Exert Self-Control. This marshmallow experiment was also mentioned in Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” Mr. Mischell is now 84 and about 45 years ago did this study on a group of six hundred some five year old children at Stanford University. He has just come out with a book, The Marshmallow Test. He gave the children a marshmallow (or cookie). He told them that if they waited until he came back they would get two marshmallows, or if they rang the bell on the desk someone would come back and they could eat the ONE marshmallow. Two out of three ate the one marshmallow and he has researched these kids, now adults, over the years to see how successful they were in different areas of life. The ones that waited had higher SAT scores, were less overweight, used less cocaine, earned more advanced degrees, coped better with stress, etc. So essentially, ‘patience is virtue’, was possibly proven by science here if we assume that our definition of ‘success’ is a virtue.
In another New York Times article, We Didn’t Eat the Marshmallow, The Marshmallow Ate Us, there is a similar study mentioned from University of Rochester. This study points out that children who were not raised in as stable a home as the 600+ academic professionals’ children used in the Stanford study may have operated under a different principle, ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’. This study was done with children who had some reason to doubt the researcher’s promise to come back with a second one. Children in homes where there is divorce, domestic violence, low socio-economic status, or some other factors which create instability may have reasons they assume what they are told may not be as likely to happen.
Though social changes are important and willpower only goes so far, we still want to know how we can practically gain the valuable skill of patience, delayed gratification, self-control. The environment in our society and home being what it is, how can we best overcome the temptations that prevent our dreams being realized?
“The children who succeed turn their backs on the cookie, push it away, pretend it’s something nonedible like a piece of wood, or invent a song. Instead of staring down the cookie, they transform it into something with less of a throbbing pull on them.”
“think of the marshmallow as a white cloud or a cotton ball. . .”
Adults can use similar methods of distraction and distancing, (Mischell) says.
There are some simple techniques and phrases one can use such as ‘if, then’ plans for delayed gratification. “If it is before noon, I won’t go on facebook. . . If I feel angry, I will count back from ten. . .” You can think positively about a situation at work with a ‘what if. . . something (specific) good happens?’ and instead of ‘have to’ think about ‘want to’ and ‘enjoy’. Reframe your woes, complaints, sorrows, and the wrongs done to you in a positive light. Thinking about how they could be ‘repurposed’ and used to benefit you and others can aid you in delaying self-gratification, getting a greater reward in the long run.
Understanding what brings us the rewards of happiness and joy can aid us in gaining this skill for our job and our personal life. Even more so than a marshmallow, waiting for social ‘experiences’ actually makes you happier. It would make everyone happier and perhaps also create a social environment that is more stable and happy for us to wait and look forward to social experiences, together. Looking at this in light of the Rochester study I draw some conclusions. Waiting patiently for a social experience together could create a compounding reward in that it creates that stable environment that reassures us all we will get the second marshmallow. You can read about why waiting in line for experiences makes us happier in Time magazine.
Mr. Mischell talks about the plasticity of the human brain and explains the study he did on the preschool children he followed over the years. Self-control can be learned.
TED talk and duplicate Marshmallow study in Columbia.
“I think we have found the most important principle for success.”
Rachel Hofer, MS
One area of psychology that has been often neglected in research and in counseling is the importance of relationships with siblings and how this affects other areas of one’s life and relationships. Freud did not even mention Siblings in his work as a topic of exploration, except to mention he would put his siblings on an island (p. 29). Quoted in the video below is the statistic that one third of adult siblings experience sibling strife. Safer deals specifically with the experience of having a sibling or siblings with an illness or ‘abnormality’ that was difficult and wounding for a “Normal One.” The book is very insightful and validating of that experience. However, there is also the experience of one’s own ‘abnormality’ and struggles in identifying with humanity as we all are ‘Abnormal’ and broken in some areas. In my opinion there is balance in blaming one’s siblings and family, acknowledging the wounds and healing, and seeing one’s own role in the problem. She has a lot of insight into the stigma that comes with family problems specific to sibling strife when she says, a “damaged sibling a disavowed part of self.”
Although, from the moment we are born we are little individuals with thoughts and feeling in our own right, we begin as a part of this family. Unless we are adopted, it’s the one family we get and the first place we learn, among many things, to attach to others. Adoption comes with its own wounding, even at a very young age. The wounds from our families come with their own set of stigmas and beliefs that guard our acknowledgement of them and healing. We can all admit that we can learn a lot from research of our families- for the benefit of the human race! Do not neglect your siblings! One of my cousins, once, at a family reunion while smoking a cigarette in the driveway said to me, “They should do a research study on our family. Seriously. They would learn so much!” Now, my family has a very rich heritage and fame in its line, but I do not let this get in the way of healing the wounds. We also are all so unique, not one an exact twin. This is not “Gatica,” if you remember that movie where DNA mapped out one’s life status and discrimination. Often people, out of their own wounding will deny and put up a front that there is a ‘perfect’ family. However, if you do not acknowledge the wounds they can not be healed.
If you have a sibling consider them in celebration of Siblings Day! What good memories do you have of your sibling or siblings?
Safer, Jean. The Normal One.
“There is no gene for the human spirit”