Stories and characters can help us understand our inner worlds and relationships. Here is an article written for therapists and therapy written in a Play Therapy counseling program.
In the Jungian Analytical Play Therapy technique the therapist provides 8-10 pre-selected fairy tales for the child to choose from. The therapist reads the fairy tale the child chooses. Then the therapist asks the child to draw something in the sand about the fairy tale- one meaningful image, feeling, or figure from the tale and then creates a sand tray with scene with figures. The therapist helps the child to process the child’s creation with them by asking questions such as: (a) What were you feeling when you placed x there? (b) If this symbol (or object or person) were talking, what would they be saying and to whom? If the child is under the age of 8 the therapist may ask different probing questions such as, “Let’s talk about (the object/image/symbol) and its purpose in the drawing (or sand tray). What does (the object/image/symbol) do? Where does it live?” The therapist can then analyze what the child is doing and provide a dialogue with them to help them individuate (Shaeffer, 2011).
There are a myriad of fairytales and modern mythological stories to pull from for this activity that children may already be familiar with and identify with. Harry Potter is one example, where the main character exemplifies the archetype of the orphan child (Hunt, 2006). I also found a book review with stories that held many archetypes including the Junian archetype of the child-god Hermes mentioned in my prior discussion for this Unit and the image he holds of ‘walking backwards.’ The same issue also had a review of ‘The Shadow of the Dragon,’ and a JAPT therapist could discuss with the child the shadow side of each archetype in exploring the meaning of the images they created in the sad related to the stories read in therapy. Many children and adults have an ‘orphan child’ and can benefit from working with this image in therapy as relates to Harry Potter. There is a positive and negative and individuation can occur in bringing these images to consciousness in one’s identity. Jung’s theories of the child and what became JAPT all started with his thoughts about the archetype of the child and while going through inner conflict near the end of his own life he found healing through identifying the child archetype in himself (Jung, 2009).
Hunt, Kathy. (2006). ‘Do You Know Harry Potter? Well, He is an Orphan’: Every Bereaved Child Matters. Pastoral Care in Education, Jun2006, Vol. 24 Issue 2, p39-44. 6p.
Jung, C.G. (2009). The red book. New York, NY: Norton.
Schaefer, C. (2011). Foundations of Play Therapy. 2nd Ed. Wiley & Sons: Hoboken, New Jersey
Book Review. (2010.) Library Media Connection. Jan/Feb2010, Vol. 28 Issue 4, p69-69. 1/9p.
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
Last week Dr. Jim Porter and I had our first “Psychodrama Laboratory” at the Loga Springs Human Enrichment Center. These will be held on the first monday of every month (Mondays Meditations on the other three). The Psychodrama Laboratory will use human volunteers to explore acting and drama exercises applied to our deepest fears, worries, and anxieties. Last week I discovered that though acting can sometimes be intimidating this is a different kind of acting and requires much more vulnerability. The scenes can be enjoyable to watch, but the purpose is more therapeutic.
If a comedian or actor acts out a scene I am sure they could make it extremely funny or entertaining. We definitely had some laughs and tender moments. However, at times the real honesty we are looking for in psychodrama requires some acting that is not performance and more exploratory work for the benefit of the participants. The audience and other actors are there to support another human in working out the conflict and learning from each other more than to be entertained. Some of the exercises can be much more entertaining also such as the rational-emotive anxiety scene with props. This reminded me of a Who’s Line Is It Anyway game.
I explored some of the concepts of narrative therapy, play therapy, and cinematherapy last week and we will continue with watching and discussing some scenes of movies for cinematherapy in the weeks to come. We will also have some exercises and activities that draw from narrative and play therapy. Brainstorming for the Loga Springs Human Enrichment Center Psychodrama Lab with Dr. Porter we ran through every Disney movie, Woody Allen, and Mel Brooks thinking of characters with anxiety!
Every time I am a little late I just think of that rabbit from Alice in Wonderland.
What is Play Therapy?
The Association for Play Therapy defines play therapy as “the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.”
Play is an Inalienable Right of Childhood
The United Nations has proclaimed play a universal and inalienable right of childhood (p. 10, Landreth). Everywhere in the world, children play. I can remember finding sticks in the backyard and using the leaves and dirt to build a city. Some of the neighborhood kids created a marble track in the woods. We played house and doctor. We organized a 3 neighborhood wide game of capture the flag and summoned the children in the neighborhoods near and far when we discovered we could create a massive cloud of bubbles by dipping our sticks and pulling them out frantically over the air conditioning fan outside our house. Kids saw this massive bubble cloud sign and came wanting to know what was happening over at our house.
Can you imagine what our lives would be like, what kind of miserable and unintelligible people we would have become if we had not been allowed to play and use our imagination? Such ideas have been explored in novels like “Hard Times” by Charles Dickens, where utilitarianism, only math, fact, and what is useful was part of the philosophy of education. Circus and play were motifs used to display the opposite of fact, fancy, and to highlight this suppressive utilitarian mechanization of the children’s lives. Fancy has an important place in life and in a philosophy of education and the United Nations has deemed play so important as to forbid it being suppressed in the human soul. It is a human right and it is children’s ‘work’ to play.
What does a philosophy and psychology of PLAY have to do with it?
I find that this is right in line with my beliefs about the importance and place of intuitions of the heart in the understanding of science, philosophy, ontology (the nature of being), metaphysics (the nature of reality), and epistemology (the nature of knowing). We must not only educate the mind but also the heart must have a place in education and does despite any efforts or attestations to the contrary. Pascal was a mathematician and philosopher, a famous and genius one at that, recognized by the likes of Friedrich Neitzsche. From his heart and mind came genius ideas such as on the one hand the discovery of theories like “Pascal’s Triangle” and on the other the invention of the ‘bus’ (from Latin ‘omnius’ meaning ‘everywhere’) as a charity to help those less fortunate to travel and benefit from the community. Some of the greatest inventions have come not from reasoned study, but out of intuition such as Isaac Newton when he watched an apple fall and suddenly connected its motion as being caused by the same gravitational force that controlled the moon’s attraction to the earth. Another example would be Frederich Kekule’s discovery of the structure of Benzine which he dreampt as a snake being coiled in a circle biting it’s tail. This discovery opened the way to many theories of organic chemistry.
Pascal noted in his philosophy and apologetic for Christianity that the intuitions of the heart are essential even in math when it comes to basic concepts in geometry and science such as space and time, which are intuitive rather than reasonable. They are also what lead him to a knowledge of his own depravity and inability to understand both the monstrous evil in man and the glory and dignity.
Socrates held in high value the Delphic maxim, “Know thyself.” He said the unexamined life is not worth living (The Apology, 38A). “And what do you suppose a man must know to know himself, his own name merely? Or must he consider what sort of creature he is …(Xenophon, Mem. iv, 2, 24).”
If not to understand ourselves better and to process our own experience as human beings, what is counseling for? Pascal was a mathematician and worked on ‘probability theory’. He applied this also to his understanding of man, and worked out a more ‘reasonable’ reason to his skepticism about life. He found we can never really be certain of anything. We can not escape ‘probability,’ ‘doubt’, and ‘trust’ even in science, let alone in relationships. He laid out his famous ‘Pascal’s Wager’ in regards to the Christian faith and understanding of man. In his view the only way we can ever be certain of anything is through faith and love. We can base our faith on sound empirical and reasoned arguments, but there is always room for skepticism and doubt. I would argue that play is a way for us to strengthen those trust muscles, to get in touch with our intuitions and to love.
According to the psychologists Freud and Jung, play is a way of acccessing the unconscious, where the intuitions reside. Freud called psychoanalysis in essence a cure through love.
In recent years a growing number of noted mental health professionals have observed that play is as important to human happiness and well being as love and work (Schaefer, 1993). Some of the greatest thinkers of all time, including Aristotle and Plato, have reflected on why play is so fundamental in our lives. How can we discover ourselves better than through play?“
According to Piaget (1962) play bridges the gap between concrete experience and abstract thought and it is the symbolic function of play that is so important (p.11).” – Garry L. Landreth in
The swiss psychologist Piaget shaped much of cognitive theory, including its relationship to socialization. In the 1920s Piaget observed children reasoning and understanding differently, depending on their age. He proposed that all children progress through a series of cognitive stages of development, just as they progress through a series of physical stages of development. According to his theory, until around adolescense the brain still needs concrete objects to make rational judgements. His theory, along with Pascal’s theory about how we know and understand reality, are some of the reasons I use play as part of my therapy with adults and especially children.
I am not a play therapist but I do use play therapy techniques and toys in my therapy with children and adults and have attended play therapy trainings.
Landreth, Garry L. Play Therapy: The Art of Relationship. Second Edition.
Schaefer, C. E. (1993). The therapeutic power of play. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc.
* For those interested- Pascal’s model of how we know and understand the world, the orders of being: physical, mind, love; and the corresponding orders of knowing:senses, reason, faith.
For more info from Rachel Hofer check www.lovingtherapy.com