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Solution focused play therapy with traumatized children Defining our terms: what is play therapy? How do we make it solution focused? And how can that be relevant in situations of trauma, abuse, and crisis?
What is play therapy? • Play is the work of children • Adults have language; children have multiple ways of expression • EXERCISE I: the fidget factor • The play therapist’s tool kit: crayons or markers; paper; dolls or stuffed animals for dramatic play (varying sizes); modeling clay or foam; something to take away
Stages and Materials • Zero to two: soft comfort items (blankets, soft safe stuffed animals) • Two to Five: modeling clay, crayons, paper, a range of stuffed animals or dolls to act out situations with • Five to Eight: Same, perhaps add markers; AND add in games (dominos, jacks, checkers, mancala) • Eight to Eleven: Add more sophisticated art supplies; dolls usually won’t work anymore, but use your judgment; games assume even more importance • Eleven to Fourteen: Consider adding music and/or a small microphone to “write songs” – this can be wonderful for younger ages, too! • (See handout: “A portable playroom”)
Gender, culture, and Individual differences • To help join with children from diverse cultural backgrounds, include some materials familiar to children across cultures, and allow them to choose. (Examples: jacks, dominoes, mancala, soft dolls for girls). Games may be more comfortable for some children, boys in particular, than art materials, esp. if these art materials are not common in their culture of origin. Games can be just as rewarding an avenue to conversation – no need to push art. • Allow for gender differences but don’t assume them • Keep your dolls multiracial, not too “grown up” looking, and vague as to facial expression and dress. If this is difficult, try substituting small stuffed animals of varying sizes, and creating family groups of them • Avoid coloring pages; use blank paper instead • Don’t forget music, the great unifier – invest in a cheap tape recorder and a microphone (can be fake from a party or toy store, up to age 10 or so)
Okay, but what about trauma? • Is trauma too “serious” for play? • Regression under stress • Victimization = Loss of voice • Expressive therapies useful even for adults who have suffered trauma (sand table, art, music)
What is trauma? • A wound to the self producing shock • A normal response to an extreme event • Any event which the mind cannot immediately process or relegate to memory • Can be secondhand from witnessing extreme events or even hearing about them (Charles Figley at FSU); can and will differ from person to person • CASE EXAMPLES from group
Establishing yourself as a healing person • Reassure • Comfort with soft object, familiar materials • Be clear about your role, purpose, and patience • Allow, don’t push • Explore materials and means
Catharsis vs. Solution Focused • Approach taught before 2001: basically Freudian; critical incident debriefing; get the story out with all the details • 2001 Joint Statement from American Red Cross, and U.S. Departments of Health, Human Services, Justice, and Defense: Critical incident debriefing sometimes helps, but sometimes does not; and may make things worse. EMDR can be effective, but not at the time. “Fostering resiliency” is the most universally effective approach
What do we mean by Fostering Resiliency? • “Survivor” not victim (Eve Lipchik, ) • Allow, even encourage the story of the traumatic event, but don’t push beyond the person’s threshold • Guide the person’s attention to strengths and heroism –shape the story to one the mind can safely hold
Ways to be Solution Focused in Play Therapy with Traumatized Children • Putting it all together • Age appropriate materials • Encourage, don’t push, but allow story to unfold through play and art as well as speech • Guide the talk to a focus on positives, strengths, and hope for the future – a liveable story
Scaling • How are you doing today on scale of 1 to 10? (can use tower of blocks; can use basketball players i.e. LeBron is a 10; can use events, like today is how close to being like a great birthday party; use your imagination) • This works well with even the youngest child
Resource Mapping • A good technique for a child initially reluctant to talk • A good technique for guiding your immediate actions if you have to intervene with respect to placement • Refocuses child on positives to build safety, begin healing • Let’s try it out! • Remember: identify; accept; encourage contact (within limits); finish with paper hug
Resilient Story Telling • A good technique for once the child starts talking • A useful way to begin to construct a hope filled, liveable story • Let’s practice!! • Remember: identify heroism; diffuse responsibility (off the child); future forward
In Conclusion • Be aware of age appropriate materials for work with children, and carry some with you at all times; • Respect alternative methods of expression – music, art, dramatic play, creative movement; • Do not overfocus on “getting all the details” or critical incident debriefing; • Allow, encourage, but don’t push; • Shape the stories you hear to focus on the child’s strengths, courage, and hope for the future; • Work with the child to create a life story that can be lived with over time