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The Labyrinth of Life

labyrinthWhen I was twenty I was dating someone who was sober and so I was attending Al-Anon meetings both to support him and because my (also sober) best friend was encouraging me to go. At that time in my life I had this idea that getting sober was an event with a before (drinking) and an after (no drinking). I don’t know why I thought this but I think it was part and parcel of being twenty and not knowing very much and thinking that things could be as easy as that. Back then I thought there was a finish line marked “success” and that grown ups who had any sense were living there and that’s where I — and my boyfriend and my best friend — were headed because we were doing what the experts said, going to meetings, stepping forward one day at a time.

I trusted the straightforward path with straightforward rules and I trusted that as long as we were moving forward and following the rules we would end up at the finish line. I didn’t know then that life is more like a labyrinth — meant for wandering — and that there is no finish line. I didn’t understand that life is process and it’s the process that matters.

When I began working at a women’s shelter in my mid-twenties, the life-as-labyrinth became clear to me. I expected shelter to be a point of resolution, the place where Before met  After. But most of our clients were moving in circles that were slowly (we hoped) growing wider. They were living — and in many cases reliving — their particular crises, gathering information as they went. Instead of a signpost, clearly delineating the way, our shelter program was a rest stop: a place to be nourished and nurtured (if the client wanted our nourishment and nurturing) but not a step towards anything in particular unless she chose to make it one.

I remember one client in particular, who I will call Jill. She was a stand-out client, the one we asked to speak at our fundraisers and the one whose story we told when we wrote grants. She came to us after her time ran out at another shelter and she worked our program hard, managing the myriad of appointments that she had with us and with the other programs — the programs for jobs and housing and care for her kids. She would put her two children in a make-shift double stroller and head out the door to push them up the big hill in front of our building to get them to the top where all the buses lined up, heading out to meeting after meeting. She did this because she wanted to and because she was ready to. She wanted to stay sober and safe; she wanted a better life for her kids than the one she’d been living.

She was amazing and she remained a success story after she left our program securing a good job, long-term housing, and therapy for herself and her boys. But it wasn’t because of us (her case managers); it was because she sought us out and thankfully, we were there. I have no doubt that our presence had an integral role in her life but she was the author of her own change. She was able to see a way out of the circle in her labyrinth to someplace wider with better opportunity.

Here’s what’s important: it was not her first stay at shelter. She’d been there before when she had only one child and was still using, eventually going back to the man who hurt her. That first visit with us she wasn’t ready so she left (actually she was asked to leave when she came back to shelter drunk).

Did her success the next time around make her a failure before? No, not in the big picture. Her failure in our program was part of her process in life’s labyrinth. Jill’s way was complicated, as it is for many of us. The first time she came to shelter is as important as the second because it’s where she had to be before she could get to where she was going. She is the one who came to us the second time, she is the one who remembered the way and she is the one who used our help differently than she was able to use it before.

In my own life I see the same widening of a circle that looks familiar. I meet people and think, “Oh, it’s you again!” a particular kind of relationship I need to get better at, a friendship that feels an awful lot like a friendship I’ve lived before. There’s always something to learn on the way, a better understanding of who I am and who I want to be. Parenting my kids is a chance to reexamine the ways I was raised. Arguing with my husband is a chance to understand each other better. Sometimes the sameness seems stifling and then I know it’s time to find my way to another part of the labyrinth, that the frustration I’m experiencing is a sign that it’s time to grow.

Healing is a process. Where someone is in their process is where they are. Perhaps they can hear only every other thing we say or maybe only every third or four or fifth or even TENTH thing we say. Perhaps a client will have only one epiphany in a program or in counseling but that epiphany may be enough to get them to turn a corner six years down the line. Maybe one day they will remember that thing they learned and that will be the important thing they need to step out of the path they’re on. Or maybe they will not get any epiphanies but they will learn that there are places where people will sit and listen to you; that there are places where hope drives the conversation. Maybe what they need to know is that there is refuge for when life gets too complicated, for when they’re finally ready to stop and rest awhile on the way to where they’re meant to be.

What is strengths based counseling?

What is strengths based counseling?

Strengths based counseling is exactly what it says — it’s therapy that assumes the client has talents and skills to build on. Doesn’t that seem obvious? But it’s actually a fairly recent theoretical shift. Not that individual counselors weren’t already building on strengths but for the industry as a whole, it’s kinda newfangled.

In practice what this means is that if someone comes to a therapist’s office with a big huge problem, feeling like the sum of their big huge problem, (which is normal when you’ve felt stuck, frustrated or discouraged), we’re going to actively look for what they’re doing right. We’re going to be looking for the inner wisdom the client might not realize they have.

Most of us — in the counseling world and out — are used to looking for our deficits because we’re used to seeking out areas where we can improve. In school, in job performance reviews, in our personal lives, we set goals based in large part on what we’re not doing. We want to get more organized (never mind any organizational skills we’ve already mastered); we want to be more focused (never mind that our busy creativity has served us well); we want to be taller, faster, stronger, prettier and just all around better.

Improvement is good but it’s a whole lot easier to improve if we are able to build on something that’s already there. If we do have organizational skills in one area — say in cooking — how can we bring those strengths to bear in another area? Or we might need to change our ideas about how focus should look to accommodate our strengths in quick changes.

Here’s an example of how strengths based parenting counseling might look.

Let’s say Ramona Quimby’s parents (Robert and Dorothy) come to my office. This is Ramona circa Ramona and Her Mother. This is a tough time for the Quimby family; dad is coming off a scary stint of unemployment but is working a job he doesn’t like. They’ve gone from a one stay-at-home parent family to a two-working-parents family, which is a big adjustment for the kids, and yet financially they’re worse off because their two incomes don’t equal Robert’s old one income. Ramona is staying after school with Howie’s grandmother and she doesn’t like it very much. Big sister Beezus is at a “difficult” age where she’s starting to get moody and dramatic and more peer-oriented, which is challenging some of the values that the family holds dear. The parents are fighting more, too, and this scares Ramona who is afraid they’re going to get a divorce.

Let’s say the Quimbys come to me because Ramona wore her pajamas to school under her clothes the other day, which seems a little weird, and because she’s packed her bags to run away once. (This is all in the book.)

The Quimbys are stressed and worried about life in general and Ramona in particular. They’re afraid that they’ve handled these big changes wrong. Robert alternately worries that he’s spoiling Ramona by not being too strict or by being way too strict (because his own parents were pretty stern as per this line he quotes from his own mother, “First time’s funny, second time’s silly, third time’s a spanking” featured in Ramona and her Father). Maybe the parents are even fighting about this a little bit.

So they come into my office and they’re feeling lousy. They’re worried I’m going to think they’re lousy parents and they’re worried that they are lousy parents.

But the Quimbys are great parents! And they have great kids! I’m going to ask them about the problem that brought them in to my office but I’m also going to ask them questions meant to ferret out all the things that they’re doing right. This isn’t just for me, it’s for them, too; together we’re going to build on those things. Besides I want them to leave my office feeling hopeful that things can get better.

Change is hard and it can be slow so if they don’t have their strengths in mind, it’s easy to get so discouraged that they give up before they even start.

In our sessions, we’re going to talk about all the ways that they have been tuned in and responsive to their children’s needs and how they have weathered the challenges of parenting a spirited child like Ramona. We’re going to talk about the strength of their relationship and I’ll ask them about other times they’ve been in conflict with each other and how they came through those difficult periods. Because I’ve read books ahead in the series, I know that Robert really likes kids (he eventually goes back to school to be an art teacher) and I bet that’ll come out in our discussions. I’ll note that he’s creative — like Ramona, maybe? — and I’ll ask him how this gives him insight into what’s happening for her.

When the parents are feeling good — or at least better — about where they already are, it’s going to be easier to make any of the changes that they need to make. As we plan those changes we’ll be able to lean on their identified strengths. In Ramona’s family, that means their strong relationships, the parents’ understanding of their girls and their interest and willingness to become more educated about Ramona’s developmental and temperamental needs.

A strengths based perspective doesn’t start with advice and techniques; it starts with listening. The advice and techniques are customized to the family’s interests and abilities and it’s assumed that they have strengths that matter just as much — if not more — than any weaknesses that might need shoring up.

Kids and Gender Identity Exploration

kids and gender identity exploration

Both in my office and in my real life (the one where I’m not wearing my therapist hat) I am meeting more and more kids and teens who identify as transgender, gender variant or gender queer. And I am also talking to more and more worried parents who are trying to make sense of this. They want to know, how do I support my child? Is this a real thing or just a phase? What do I do next?

First let’s talk some about the language. It’s important to know that the language around gender identity issues is changing quickly and language that one person uses may be offensive to another person. I am using the language suggested in this infographic created by the TSER (Trans Student Education Resources). Their organization defines transgender as an umbrella term that includes anyone whose gender identity is different than the gender assigned to them at birth. This would include a child designated “boy” at birth who identifies as a girl as well as a child designated “boy” at birth that does not identify as any gender (agender) or whose gender identity varies (often referred to as gender variant or gender queer).

Gender is culturally defined. What it means to be a boy or to be a girl depends on where, when and how you live. In India, straight men hold hands. Here in the states, not so much. So something that we know to be “true” about masculinity — that straight men do not hold hands with each other — is not actually true; it’s a gender performance that differs depending on one’s cultural surroundings.

Our gender performance is just that — performance. We are taught gender norms before birth (is it a girl or a boy?) and within the context of those teachings we learn how to perform gender. We learn who wears make up and who cooks dinner and who shaves their legs and who is loud or quiet and who is allowed to take up the most room on the subway.

Discussing gender performance can be challenging for people who believe that girls are naturally this way and boys are naturally that way. Many of us also have experience that tells us that boys really are louder or dirtier or rougher than their sisters. I would argue that whether or not we can prove this is unimportant. We can acknowledge the rough and tumble 5-year old boy in front of us, seeing the truth of his expression and we can also know that “boys will be boys” is a cultural norm that can be freeing (for the boy who wants to be rough and tumble) or stultifying (for the boy who does not). We can recognize both the personal experience and the cultural construct that surrounds it.

To be clear, understanding cultural norms around gender doesn’t mean that we don’t acknowledge that people we’ve identified as boys and girls may be different; it means acknowledging that how we understand, code and define these identities and these differences is complicated and dependent on social values and mores.

Children generally become aware of gender roles between two and four. When I taught preschool I had short hair and many of the kids in my care would ask me if I was a boy because of it. Children who are trans may start speaking up around now — Johnny declares he is a girl. Louisa declares she is a boy. Some of this may be about trying on gender roles, for example some kids realize that the opposite gender has access to gender performance that they want, like a boy who wants to be Cinderella or a girl who wants to be G.I. Joe. This may not indicate that they are transgender; lots of little kids figure things out by trying on different identities.

These conversations tend to come up again in the tween and teen years. As kids become more aware of the demands and expectations of gender performance — particularly as they head into their teens and adulthood — they may question them or feel critical of them. Children who are transgender and who are likely going to live out their lives under that umbrella have a “consistent, insistent, and persistent” identity with a gender that was not assigned to them at birth. This means the child identified as a boy at birth will always know she was meant to be a girl or the child identified as girl at birth will always know they are gender queer.

So what about the child who does not show consistence, insistence and persistence? What about the child identified at birth as a girl who wore tutus all through preschool, dresses all through early elementary and who now only shops at the boy department and insists that you call them Jack? Is that just a phase? Should the parents be alarmed?

Let me be clear that this blog post is meant to support all three — the transgender child, the gender variant child and the child who ultimately will align as cisgender but who is exploring. There’s something happening — I call it the Tumblrfication of this generation — where our kids are having more complicated and more nuanced discussions about gender than their parents’ generation (i.e., us) could ever hope to have.

Let’s go back to Jack, the child identified as a girl at birth who announces he is a gay boy (i.e., a boy who likes other boys). Wait a second, says the parents. Doesn’t that mean you’re a girl? Or a tomboy?

Or Jack says he is a straight boy (i.e., a boy who likes girls). Wait a second, says the parents. Doesn’t that mean you’re a lesbian?

Here’s the thing, Jack gets to decide who Jack is. And who Jack is may change. Jack may go back to be Jeannie. Jack may even go back to Jeannie and marry a man and live out life ostensibly as a straight woman some day. But what does that mean for Jack right this minute, 13-years old and standing in front of you in skinny jeans and a beanie and a buzzcut?

It means right now, right this minute, Jack is Jack.

There’s a great podcast about asexuality that you can find here. Asexuality is just what it sounds like — it’s people whose sexual orientation is to not be sexual. (Learn more about it here or listen to the podcast.) In the podcast there’s a part where the interviewer asks (and I’m going to paraphrase here because I don’t have time to boot up the podcast and find it), so what happens to your identity if you do become sexual? What if you meet someone and realize you want to be sexual with them? And the interviewee says, basically, Who I may become does not negate who I am now.

For parents, this is an important message. Who our child is right this very minute is what matters. Helping them make sense of it and supporting them as they forge their identity is our job. We can’t look into a crystal ball and know if Jeannie will stay Jack or become Jeannie again. We might make educated guesses (again, consistence, insistence and persistence are our guides here) but how incredibly disrespectful to Jack’s journey to insist we know him better than he knows himself.

For one, we might be unaware of Jack’s consistence because we shut down his insistence. Perhaps Jack knew early on but realized the first time he said, “I’m a boy” at three that this wasn’t going to fly. Maybe Jack’s coming out now is part of a long persistent journey.

Or maybe Jack didn’t have the language to explain what they meant. Perhaps Jack didn’t know how to display their gender variance, to say they didn’t feel like a boy OR a girl or felt like both a boy AND a girl.

Or maybe Jack is playing with gender, unpacking gender. Perhaps Jack is exploring the cultural performance and will come back to her identity as Jeannie with a new understanding of who she is and who she can be. And this is just as valid an experience even if it seems “temporary” when her identity eventually aligns back with her gender assigned with birth.

I see all kinds of experiences in my office but I guarantee that the number of non-binary kids I see — and that other counselors are seeing — have increased in this generation. This is the part that I call the Tumblrfication because yes, there are kids who would never identify as trans in any way, shape, or form in another time and place who are identifying now because they’ve read about it on Tumblr or saw it on Mtv or have friends who are genderqueer. Instead of calling it a phase or being dismissive, I think we need to recognize this as the cultural change that it is. Kids today (not all but many) are willing to dialogue with and about gender in ways that are not familiar to those of us who were raised to only recognize the binary. Many of us may find this threatening. What does it mean to be male if you can be a man without having a penis? How do we know who is “really” a girl and who isn’t?

This is why I encourage parents to get support along with their kids. When our children unpack gender, we’re forced to unpack it, too, and confront the biases, assumptions and prejudices that we took for granted as “true.”

When I’m working with kids who are identifying in some way as trans or genderqueer, my goal is not to herd them towards a definitive statement of gender identity. My goal is to help them understand who they are and what they need in order to align their outward experience with their inward experience. Unless a child is going to be seeking hormonal support to support their gender identity, there’s no rush. (And if in the course of treatment it becomes clear that a child/teen is going to need hormones, then I will refer out to a therapist with expertise in transition since this is beyond my scope of practice.) I ask parents to do this, too. Instead of saying, “Who are you? What are you?” I encourage parents to say, “How can I support you as you discover who you are?”

If your child tells you that they are transgender or genderqueer, believe them. Right in this minute this is how they identify. Some of them will find a home in that identity and will need to craft a support system that celebrates and honors who they are. Some of them will move through that identity on to something else and they deserve our support and understanding, too.

All of us have to make that journey. All of us need to know who we will be in the context of our whole lives — within and beyond our families, within and beyond our cultural surroundings. We have to make sense of it. We have to forge a way to learn it since, for most of us, crafting our identity is a lifelong discovery. (I am an adult, I am a parent, I am a parent no longer raising children — who am I now? I am a partner, I am a spouse, I am alone — who am I now?)

  • Here in Columbus we have a great organization to help your child find respectful support. Kaleidoscope Youth Center has support groups and activities for kids and young adults from 12 to 20
  • We also have a support group for kids 5 to 11 hosted by therapist Erin Upchurch that meets monthly. You can learn more about that (along with support groups across the country) here.

I have written this post in honor of Transgender Awareness Week, which you can learn more about here.

What’s Under the Anger?

What's under the anger?This is a nifty exercise to do with kids and I’ve had occasion to think about it lately so I thought I’d also write it up here.

Many of the kids I see are struggling with angry behaviors and getting to what lies under the anger is part of our process together. Depending on the child’s age and understanding, we do a modified version of this exercise.

First we talk about how angry is made up of lots of different emotions but figuring out which ones is tricky. So I tell them that we’re going to play detective and look at some different scenarios to figure out what’s going on under the anger.

I use index cards or slips of paper with the following emotions listed on them (these are taken from this Managing Your Anger poster).

  • Anxiety
  • Disappointment
  • Embarrassment
  • Fear
  • Frustration
  • Guilt
  • Hurt
  • Jealousy
  • Sadness
  • Shame
  • Worry

We go through the list and I make sure they have a basic understanding of what each one means. I also have blank cards available for children to add an emotion if they feel like there’s something missing. Sometimes they’ll want to add something that seems redundant to me, like Unhappiness. I’ll check in, does Sadness cover that or do they want to add it? Sometimes they won’t realize sadness is there or sometimes they’ll explain to me why Unhappiness is different and I get to learn something new about their experiences. Likewise if they say that Anxiety and Worry seem the same to them I tell them to just use whichever one they feel is the best fit.

To keep kids interested, we usually use figures or puppets to set the scenarios up. This might be acting out the scenario or it might just be placing the figures as a kind of panorama of what’s happening. This can be a lot of fun for them. I’ll say, “Ok, for this one we’ll need a sister or brother and a mom” and they giggle to pick out the people or animals who fit.

I try to choose stories that the children can relate to and I try to choose ones that come from real life. Something like:

–Amy wakes up super excited about going to the park but when she comes down for breakfast her mom tells her that it’s going to rain so they have to cancel the park date. What do you think is under Amy’s anger?


–Sebastian is supposed to play four square with his friend at recess but when he comes out after lunch is friend is already playing with someone else. What do you think is under Sebastian’s anger?

For older kids I might use more complicated scenarios:

–Cleo has been thinking about the slumber party for weeks and can’t wait to go. When she gets there she finds out that the other girls have been texting each other plans for the night but Cleo doesn’t have a phone yet so she wasn’t included. Now all the girls are giggling about something and they won’t tell Cleo what. What do you think is under Cleo’s anger?

–Dane studied super hard for the math test and thinks he did well. The next day the teacher calls him over and tells him that his answers were exactly the same as the student sitting next to him. Dane realizes that his friend must have copied the answers. What do you think is under Dane’s anger?

We do several of these with the child picking out the emotion cards that fit the situation. After they’ve done this we take a minute to contemplate what they’ve chosen. I always praise the child’s insight and we discuss those underlying emotions.

I don’t ask why they made their choices as in “Tell me why you chose Worried” because that can put some kids on the defensive. First I agree with them and then I might ask for more: “Yeah, frustration, I bet Sebastian was really frustrated! I’m curious about Fear, can you tell me more about that?”

I do not ask them what they’re missing or if they can think of one more because this exercise is to help them start feeling more confident about their ability to identify emotions (and sometimes it’s also a good assessment tool for me if I’m not sure where they are). If I do think there’s a glaring omission I might say, “This is really excellent. You’ve caught the Sadness and Frustration that might be under Amy’s anger. I wonder if she might feel Disappointed, too. What do you think?”

And we talk about it.

I usually do five or six of these generic scenes (with one specifically picked because the child will probably relate to it — for example, using a sibling scenario if the child struggles with anger towards a sibling). Using a generic but familiar scenario opens up the idea that we can come up with a scene from their own lives. Most of the time they’re willing to do this but if not, that’s fine.

Sometimes we invite a parent to come in and play the game to see if they can guess what feelings are under their child’s anger during a particular incident that’s come up in therapy and then the child gets to tell their parent what they got right and what they got wrong.

We can also talk about how Worried Anger might need a different response than Embarrassed Anger and we can come up with a game plan that the child can share with loved ones to help them deal with the next meltdown. If they’re not willing or able to talk about an incident from their own life or relate the exercise to their own experience we stay focused on other stories and I heap on the praise. If a child is having a hard time with emotional literacy than my goal is to build their confidence as we build their skills. Heck, if a child can identify one emotion — or can understand why I chose an emotion and help me talk about it — that’s a big accomplishment and sets the stage for more storytelling and emotional identification later on down the line.

Therapists don’t know you as well as you know you

crystalball-insideI know I harp on this a lot but I think it’s so important because as clients we’re vulnerable. It’s on my mind right now because yesterday I met with a colleague and we discussed a couple of situations where a therapist said, “If you don’t do X than Y and Z will happen.” As in, “If you don’t make these changes I recommend, you will get divorced.” Or, “If you continue to allow your child to do that, he will end up in the court system.” I’ve been a client, I know how it feels to sit in front of a therapist and unravel your life. I know how easy it is to be influenced by what a therapist has to say.

There are times when it might be easy for a therapist to hedge her bets. A person who leaves rehab early is likely to continue drinking. A partner who chooses to cheat on a spouse is likely to end up divorced. But there’s a big difference between saying, “likely” and “will without a doubt happen.” Also some of us are apparently prone to making prediction on much more benign choices like, for example, co-sleeping (“You will never get your child out of your bed”). Unfortunately they don’t hand out crystal balls with our licenses so we can’t actually predict the future. (Even the celebrated Gottman predictions are more complicated than reports might have you believe.)

Clients who come from families of origin where their selves and their futures were predicted (“You always were bad at math” “You never were able to handle criticism”) are especially vulnerable to know-it-all therapists. If those therapists label their clients, too, or contradict them without question, or tell them what to do the vulnerable clients might have trouble unlocking themselves from what can be a destructive — rather than therapeutic — relationship.

Therapists aren’t supposed to dictate your life to you; we’re supposed to help you figure it out for yourself.

There are times therapy can and should make you feel uncomfortable because growth is uncomfortable, which can make it even more difficult to know if you’re in a counseling situation where the counselor is doing more leading than guiding. But there are clues:

  • Is the counselor dismissive of your feedback? If you say, “But I read…” or “But I think…” does she interrupt and contradict you or does she listen and engage with you? Your therapist might respectfully debate with you but she should never dismiss you.
  • If you come from a family or have experienced an intimate relationship where your feelings were dismissed, do you leave your counseling sessions feeling the same deflated way?
  • Do you feel pressured by your therapist’s ideas for you? For example, if you’re a welder is he trying to get you to go back to school and be a dancer?
  • Does she predict that things will go badly for you if you don’t take her advice? Is she coercive if you want to suspend therapy or come less often?

People are complicated. You are complicated. I am complicated. Research can be useful and informative but we know ourselves best. A good therapist can help you know yourself better so that your decisions are true to the person you are working to be or hope to become. A good therapist leaves room for you to craft your own vision; not one she holds for you.

Choosing Play Therapy Toys

When I’m choosing play therapy toys these are the things I’m thinking about (click any pictures to make them bigger):

Does it have play value?

play therapy toysPlay value means that not only is this toy fun but there is, as Anne of Green Gables would say, “scope for imagination” in it. Take the stuffed tree there on the right, the one sheltering Wonder Woman and a tie-dyed monkey. Children hide things in it, hide people in it, hide animals in it. They use it as a safe house for favorite bunnies or a lair for an evil parrot. They use it to play hide and seek with me or with themselves. They use it for storage and they use it for scenery. It’s sturdy (it’s survived being sat upon an awful lot since it’s the right height for some kids to see it as a stool) and it’s cozy being made of the same flocked cloth a favorite teddy bear might have. I also try to be mindful of the different ages I have in my office. It’s not unusual for me to see a 3-year old in the morning and a 13-year old in the afternoon. For that reason I also have busy toys — the kind of thing that a big kid can play with without feeling silly but will keep their hands occupied enough that it’s easy to chat together with our attention semi-focused on something else.

Does it have therapeutic value?

play therapy toys castleGood guys and bad guys, fights for the dark force or the bright way, this is the stuff of legends and of play therapy sessions. Kids need tools to help them explore being the heroic maiden as well as the angry dragon to work out their own hopes, fears and everyday experiences. Sometimes a castle is just a castle and sometimes it’s a refuge for our struggles with friends, family and ourselves. I have a variety of good guys, bad guys and everything in between. I have a number of different families — people and animals — so children can build their own or ones they wish for. I look for toys that have room for symbolic meaning, that can stand in for both big and small feelings and I look for toys with therapeutic purpose that’s more obvious like baby bottles, a doctor’s kit and tools for fixing anything that’s broken.

Can it be used in more than one way?

play therapy toys stop signMy office is small so storage space is at a premium. I want toys that can do double or even triple duty. Signs like these posted in my sand tray also work with the blocks, the stuffed animals or the cars. Kids can use them literally (as part of a town or roadway) or figuratively (images of boundaries that must not be crossed). I can also draft them into more directive games by setting up cards to map the trajectory of our angry or worried outbursts and asking kids to show me when it’s time to STOP our escalating emotions or anxious thoughts.

Every play therapist has her own style and her own tools. While most of us will agree on the basics (Doctor’s kit! Baby dolls! Dollhouse!) the details are our own. I love to check out the stash of other play therapy offices for ideas and inspiration and also because toys are just plain FUN.

play therapy toys pirateFinally, scroll down to see a quick YouTube tour of my whole office as it looked a few weeks ago. I’m always adding (and sometimes subtracting) toys but you’ll get the general idea.

Note: If you follow me on Instagram then you know I often post pictures of the toys from my office including the ones I’ve posted here. Some of these look like they’re in “mid-play” and they are but I’m the one playing with them.

The reason I’m telling you this is that I want to be very very very clear that I never — and I mean NEVER — post anything related to a play session with a client. NEVER.

Play therapy sessions hold the same standards of confidentiality that an adult session would have (with some obvious exceptions related to the parent-child relationship). I would no more snap and share a picture of a child’s sandtray than I would snap and share a picture of my case notes. Even without identifying information attached, sharing pictures drawn by a client, sandtrays created by a client or a configuration of toys set up by a client violates the sanctity and trust of the therapeutic relationship.

Sharing such pictures is a clear ethical violation and it’s important for me to let you know that anything you see up on Instagram or here on my blog has absolutely no client connection whatsoever.

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