Obviously animal-assisted therapy is pretty important to me AND to 12 Points and I’m thrilled to see how much traction it’s getting within the mental health field now.
The more people out there providing evidence-based animal-assisted therapy services, the more clients can benefit from this innovative (and entertaining) field of psychotherapy.
However I’m also a big believer in setting yourself up for success, especially when we’re talking about the interactions between therapists, their animals and their clients.
That’s why I’ve put together a 4-week training program, specifically tailored to mental health professionals who are thinking about incorporting animals into their therapy practice.
This 4-week course will be delivered via a closed FB group and features: – up to date research articles on the science behind the effectiveness of AAT, – case studies discussing AAT in Action AND – ongoing support and mentoring.
For those who access the group before the 1st of November, they’ll also have the chance to have more personalised content delivered to them via 4 livestreamed lectures/demonstrations (the recordings will also be saved for everyone to access at anytime they join).
In the 4 livestreams we’ll cover: – how to find your animal co-therapist, OR – how to work out if your existing pet might be suitable as a therapy animal, – how to access the best training for you and your animal, – policies and procedures (including insurance and tax-related issues) when incorporating an animal into your workplace.
To sign up, just go to our ‘Resources for Sale’ page and click on the paypal link or email email@example.com for more information.
Open and ongoing access is only $97 until the end of 2019.
Hi! I’m Amanda, a counsellor, primary/secondary teacher and an excited new member of the 12 Points team!
Whilst my work at 12 Points will predominantly focus on working with young people experiencing challenges with social, emotional, behavioural and learning issues, I have actually been asked to talk about something else that I am equally passionate about, the link between mental health and veganism. I am a dedicated vegan; having made the transition from vegetarianism about 5 years ago. I really wish there had been a counsellor available to me at the time who could have supported and guided me, especially given how emotive, and often misunderstood, the term ‘vegan’ has become in recent years.
According to Google Trends, Australia was the most popular country for veganism in both 2017 and 2018 and was also the 3rd fastest growing market for vegan products in 2018. The largest growing demographic of vegans is those between 16 and 34 years old, with the most common age group transitioning being those between 19 and 21 years old.
With this steady growth within the vegan community, prominent Australian vegan psychologist Clare Mann conceived a terrific new concept in 2017 – ‘Vystopia’. This term perfectly describes how many vegans feel and explains why so many may benefit from therapeutic support. Vystopia refers to ‘an existential crisis experienced by vegans, arising out of an awareness of the trance-like collusion with a dystopian world’. In other words, when someone ‘goes vegan’ they are suddenly confronted by the fact that, whilst they are living in line with their values, the rest of the world is not and now appears cruel and unkind in comparison. It can be a frustrating existence in which one may experience abuse, critcism and ostracization because they no longer support particular mainstream views. Vegans can find it extremely difficult to find someone who understands these feelings in a therapeutic setting.
Like Neo taking the red pill in the Matrix, we’ve seen how far the rabbit hole goes and it can be a daunting, isolating place, especially when you consider that as a community, those who choose the vegan lifestyle tend to be highly empathic and sensitive people.
It must be noted that some new vegans may, in fact, take the red pill and embrace this newfound opportunity to create change without detriment to their mental health. However, most will experience a significant shift in their psychological wellbeing and struggle with the adjustment to this new world and the burden it brings. For the latter, vystopia can generate symptoms associated with anxiety, depression, PTSD as well as sleep and behavioural disturbances. Some people may also withdraw and disconnect from previously supportive systems who don’t share their personal views and/or develop strong emotions such as grief, anger, intense guilt, a sense of isolation, or a feeling of helplessness.
The good news is, there are strategies and resources available to help work through the grief and distress that exists with vystopia. Much can be done to help a vegan client make sense of their experiences via modalities such as Acceptance and Commitment therapy (ACT), Solution Focused Therapy (SFT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Mindfulness, communication skills and resilience strategies can also be invaluable to support particular vystopian presentations.
At 12 Points Psychology I am not here to promote and convert people to veganism. However, I am here to offer a safe space for those who are thinking about, or have taken, the red pill and are finding it hard living as a vegan in a non-vegan world.
As an animal-assisted practice, a question we get all the time is ‘can I bring my dog to my sessions?’ While we’d love to accommodate everyone, and we love meeting new dogs (obviously!) we also have to be considerate of our other clients and the therapy dogs working at the practice.
If you’d like to start bringing your own dog to sessions, please give us a call and we can arrange a Meet & Greet with admin or clinicians, as well as some of our therapy dogs, to get a sense of how you and your dog deal with the people and situations at the practice. Please don’t bring your dog along for a session until you’ve done the Meet and Greet as, if your dog isn’t suitable, we don’t want you to miss your session!
In order for us to consider allowing your dog to attend sessions at our practice, your dog MUST be:
vaccinated, with an up-to-date vaccination certificate provided upon request,
in good health, clean, and free from parasites (fleas, worms etc.),
toilet trained, and
on leash or halter at ALL times.
Most importantly, your dog must NEVER have shown aggression to people or other dogs.
Please note that these requirements are not negotiable.
Ideally, your dog will also have at least basic obedience and manners. Preferred training providers includeLead the Waytherapy-animal and support-animal training, Alpha Canine Groupdog training orPatient Pawsdog training. If you and your dog have done training through any of these organisations, it will be much easier for us to approve your dog.
Thank you for your understanding and helping us to keep 12 Points a safe and welcoming space for humans and canines alike!
Gratitude. Now there’s a word that’s getting a serious workout of late in ‘buzzword bingo’. But to truly understand the meaning and the purpose of those cute Instagram posts with the fluffy puppy pictures and inspirational quotes (which we’re obviously big fans of here at 12 Points Psychology), here’s 12 Points you need to know about how and why you can use gratitude exercises to optimise mental health and wellness.
Gratitude is all about making a meaningful expression of thanks and an active decision to focus on what we have (rather than on what we want or on what others have).
It is not just focusing on what we have that is better than others, (e.g., there’s nothing wrong with feeling grateful that you have a roof over your head, but it’s not gratitude if you think that roof makes you better than those without a roof).
Gratitude is an emotion you can develop, nurture and increase, just by shifting your attention to things you are grateful for. That could be as simple as mentally focusing on people and things you are grateful for, or, doing a more formal practice, like journalling, consciously looking for opportunities to say thank you or writing a letter to someone who is important to you.
Gratitude practices like those described above, can improve your mood and increase the amount of happiness you experience in your day to day life.
Practicing regular gratitude has been associated with actual physical changes, like reduced levels of inflammatory markers in the blood as well as improvements in relationships and even job satisfaction.
Being on the lookout during your day for your grateful moments helps keep you focused in the present moment which reduces anxiety and improves attention.
The more you look for things to be grateful for, the more things you will find, which actually reduces the attention and time spent focusing on negative events, emotions and thoughts.
Gratitude practice has a cumulative effect – so you definitely need to do it more than once to feel the effects! But the more you do it, the easier it gets and the more benefits you gain.
Gratitude promotes helping behaviours and compassion (it’s contagious!) so if you start practising, you will be helping to improve the health and well-being of all those around you as well!
Grateful people have better self-control and are more easily able to delay gratification. Which is very useful if you’re trying to break a bad habit like nail-biting or smoking or introduce a new healthy habit, like drinking water regularly.
Beware of passive-aggressive gratitude! I.e., “I’m grateful my annoying sibling/co-worker finally shut up”
Gratitude can be done on your own, but can also be a tool to deepen emotional intimacy and strengthen relationships if you share your gratitude with others (e.g., a partner).
So do some stationary shopping for the perfect journal, download a gratitude tracking app or just take the time to text with a friend, but try and find just one thing per day that makes you feel grateful. I promise it will get easier as your mind gets used to looking for, noticing and acknowledging the positives you already have in your life.
As for me, honestly, today, I’m grateful for this platform I have to spread the word about a ridiculously simple practice that I have found incredibly powerful and positive, both personally and professionally, I hope it will be of benefit to you in some way too.
And if you want to see how I go keeping track of my gratitude this week, just head over to Facebookor Instagram to follow my 7 day gratitude tracking challenge! Fair warning – I’m often very grateful for my dogs – so there will be plenty of posts of sleeping puppy faces!
Thanks to Facebook memories, I was reminded of a beautiful moment that Jersey shared with a client 3 years ago today and I thought it was just too special not to share with you all.
Some of you may know that Jersey has a bit of a proclivity for cuddling up with stuffed animals. She once stole a particularly fluffy teddy bear from a 2-year old’s outstretched hand!
Since her sister, Rory, has been known to eviscerate stuffed animals before you can say “Rory!”, Jersey can only have access to her stuffed animals at work. She likes to have Brown Dog (pictured) next to her during sessions sometimes and will pick it up in her mouth and take it to her bed when she needs some down time. She frets if a small child wants to play with Brown Dog. Jersey loves Brown Dog.
Today a young client and I were talking about different helpful and unhelpful ways that we use to deal with some difficult feelings. I told her about Jersey using Brown Dog to comfort herself when she’s feeling overwhelmed and the client thought that was a good idea and we started working out what she could use as her cuddly talisman.
Completely unbidden, Jersey left her bed and dropped Brown Dog at the client’s feet. She wouldn’t take Brown Dog back when we offered it to her and she left it there when she returned to her bed to snooze.
I teared up. The client was beside herself. Jersey just knew what was needed. The behaviour was so outside the norm for her. I really think she was responding to the client’s need, maybe she recognized her own distress in the client, maybe she was just showing her Brown Dog, but it made my day/week/month and I hope you enjoyed hearing about it!
I am so proud to be able to share this post with you all.
Psychologists and mental health clinicians are actually really restricted with what we can do in terms of ‘promotion’ of our services. Most people don’t know this, but we can’t use any reviews or testimonials from clients and obviously we have to be incredibly careful sharing our ‘success’ stories because maintaining past and current client confidentiality is of the utmost importance to us.
But this is not a testimonial or review, rather it is one young boy’s experience of his anxiety from the inside looking out. It was written by a former client who is now 10-years old and wrote this for a school assignment. He and his family have very kindly given us permission to share this with you (with some identifying details changed).
I hope this gives you some insight into how young people may be experiencing their anxiety and some hope that just like Mr Tony (Stark) here, change and improvement is 100% achievable.
Hi my name is Tony and I have anxiety. I have a twin brother named Peter, but he is nothing like me, he doesn’t have anxiety and isn’t scared to be by himself. Mum and Dad said that when I was little, I had anxiety. They say I was always really sad when I was left at childcare and was even worse when I went to kinder. I never liked being away from my parents.
When I was 4-years old, I was riding my bike home from my friend’s house with my mum. There was a man walking a big dog coming the other way. I stopped my bike and got out of his way. I don’t know why but the dog jumped at me and grabbed my hand in its mouth and ripped me into the ground. Mum said it tore my hand right open and there was blood everywhere. An ambulance had to come and get me and I had to have an operation to save my finger. I don’t really remember it that well, I just remember hearing mum tell the story lots of times. I think this made my anxiety even worse.
I started school the next year and I was fine. I made new friends and started playing sport. When I was in grade 1, I had to have another operation on my hand. I was really scared of the operation because I remembered what the last one was like. My anxiety was really bad again. When I was in grade 3, I had to have another operation and it all happened again.
When I was in grade 4 and on Easter holidays, I got gastro. When I went back to school, I kept getting this feeling in my tummy that made me think that I had gastro. This is when the worst of my anxiety started.
I couldn’t leave my mum’s side. I was scared that I was sick and I needed my mum there in case it happened again. I got so bad that I was too scared to leave home.
Home was my safe place. I was too scared to go to school. Mum and Dad tried everything but it was too hard. My teacher ended up giving me work to do at home and the whole class sometimes wrote nice notes for me. I really missed my friends; I hardly saw them. I missed most of term 2.
In term 3 I started getting out of the house and mum and dad said I had to go back to school. I was terrified and felt sick in my tummy all the time. Mum or Dad came to school with me every day. They sat with me in the classroom and helped me feel safe.
There was an aide in my class called Steve and he was there to help another kid. Steve started to help me so mum and dad could leave the classroom but they couldn’t leave the school. They sat outside the classroom from 9am to 3:30pm every day. They were the best. Without Steve and Mum and Dad being at school every day I would never have got through the year.
This year I am in grade 5 and I got the teacher I wanted. Miss Potts was my teacher in grade 3, the reason why I wanted her is because I knew her and I had been in her class before. Steve was also in the grade ⅚ building every morning.
Soon my class is going to camp but I’m not. I am not ready to be separated from mum and dad for that long. Dad is going to take me up there for one of the days which I am looking forward to.
The last year has really sucked but I got to do some pretty cool stuff too. Dad coached my basketball team and we made it to regionals. I knee boarded for the first time over the summer and it was EPIC! This year I was voted captain for my footy team and so far, we have only lost 1 game. I made it to Divisions in cross-country, high jump and relay events and will be going to Regionals later in the year.
When I think about how far I have come and what I have achieved over the last year I couldn’t have done it without Mum and Dad, Steve, my brother Peter, Hope (counsellor), Carol (Psychologist), Natasha (School Liaison Officer), Mr Stark (Vice Principal), May (Teacher’s Aide), My footy coach Clint, my friends, especially Scott, Nick and Bruce, my Nan, Pa and the rest of my family. I owe you guys.
Now I am 10 years old and still get a bit nervous at times to leave mum and dad. I just have to remember how far I have come and that I am ok.
My beautiful cousin, Gemma and her partner, Dane, were recently faced with one of those moments in life that tests us in ways we never imagined we’d be able to survive until we find ourselves surviving it. Just over 2 months ago, their first child, Tallulah, was born at only 27 weeks old. Thankfully, Tallulah is now finally home with mum and dad, and new mum Gemma has composed this moving piece about their tumultuous time in the hope that it might help other families navigate the overwhelming and sometimes conflicting emotions that such events expose us to.
This photo was captured the day before the day that changed the course of our lives forever.
In the early hours of the following morning, I would start to feel what I now know were labour pains. I thought the pain was my lower back playing up with the weight of a growing baby and belly and so fell back to sleep.
It wasn’t until the sun was up and I felt the pain presenting more like what I imagined contractions would feel like, that we called the midwife and arranged to meet her at the hospital – still not concerned and still not thinking I was in labour. It wasn’t until we were halfway to the hospital that I knew something was wrong.
I was already 5cm dilated when we arrived at the hospital and an hour and a half later, at 10.11am, our darling Tallulah was born.
Nothing prepared me for the sight of a baby so tiny and frail and frog-like. Nothing prepared me for the sense of fight and resilience and strength a human so young, so not done with growing could emanate. And nothing prepared me for the well-meaning ‘at leasts’ that were soon to follow.
There’s no “at least” on this journey.
“At least you didn’t get a saggy belly”
“At least you didn’t get stretch marks”
“At least you didn’t have to give birth to a heavier baby”
“At least you never became uncomfortable”
I both WANTED and WELCOMED those things and more. I loved being pregnant, loved watching my belly grow, I loved showing off my belly. That was cut short. I didn’t get my nine months of feeling all of the pregnant things. I didn’t get to wear cute maternity clothes for months, Calm birthing classes, antenatal classes, a water birth. I didn’t get to feel the strong kicks and movements for a whole nine months.
I know all births don’t go according to “plan” however, I didn’t even get close.
There’s a strong dichotomy in all of this.
On one hand I’m so angry. I want to stamp my feet, clench my fists and yell and curse at the Universe for taking away the experience I’ve dreamt of for so long.
On the other hand I want to bow down and thank the Universe with grace and humility that we have had the experience we have had. It has brought us so much love and kindness we could only imagine existed. It has brought us strength. It brought us our daughter.
On one hand I’m desperately grieving the pregnancy I didn’t get. The time to feel my baby grow, kick, get all up in my ribs, on my bladder. All of the things.
On the other hand I’m so damn happy that my baby was born alive and that she survived.
On one hand I feel a sense of frustration that my body couldn’t keep our baby safe.
On the other hand I’m so relieved my body knew it had to get our baby out to keep her safe.
On one hand I’m annoyed I didn’t get to celebrate the upcoming birth of our baby with a baby shower. To relish in that anticipation and joy with my family and my friends.
On the other hand I’m so blessed to have met amazing women who have also welcomed babies too soon. These women have enriched my life just by sharing a part of themselves with me. I’m blessed to have received so much love from people close to me and those I’ve not spoken with for a very long time. I’m blessed to have received kindness from strangers. I’m blessed to know people care about me, about us.
One emotion I’ve not felt is guilt. I know I did everything I possibly could to give our baby the best start to life. Even before I was pregnant, I was doing my best to give the little soul we were waiting for the best home in which to grow. And I got her there. I got our baby 27 weeks and 6 days along, I got her to 1120g. I got her fit and fierce for her upcoming fight for life.
Above all of this, I feel honoured.
Honoured that my wish to become a mother has come true.
Honoured that I am walking beside a man who has flowed with this journey with his whole being.
Honoured that I have felt all of these emotions for it means I have love in my life to be able to feel them and still feel joy.
Honoured that I am the mother to a fierce and wonderful girl.
A girl I’m so excited and overjoyed to spend the rest of my life guiding and loving with the whole of my heart.
My hope in sharing my story is to show that it’s ok to feel many emotions all at once and that even the dimmest light can brighten by the time you get to the end of that tunnel.
We’re very pleased to have so many of our clinicians trained in EMDR, including Magdalen, Anna & Michelle, as well as a dedicated EMDR therapist in Nina. However EMDR is still a relatively new treatment modality, and can sound more like science-fiction than an evidence-based trauma therapy, so Nina and I put together this article to explain a little about EMDR and how it can help keep the past in the past.
Danielle Graber Clinical Psychologist & Director
EMDR – leaving the past in the past …..
A woman, let’s call her Nancy, comes to a counselling session because whenever her partner or boss becomes irritated with her, she gets overly upset. Nancy has a memory of being age 10, when her alcoholic step-father poked her with his finger whenever he criticised her. Now, when Nancy feels criticised, it’s almost like she is that helpless 10-year old again. Sometimes it’s like she even feels her step-father’s finger poking at her shoulder.
This is just one example of how trauma from an earlier adverse experience can impact on us in the here and now. When a past trauma is triggered by a current event, our adult brain shuts down and we can start to think and feel like the trauma is happening all over again. Any event that overwhelms our ability to cope can create a trauma reaction that stays with us into adulthood. Some of the adverse events that can lead to a trauma reaction include; neglect, abandonment, death of a parent, divorce, family violence, sexual abuse, serious medical illness, disability, war, natural disasters like fires or floods, violence, serious accidents or injury.
We may wonder why do I startle every time I hear a loud noise, a rustle in the bushes, a certain piece of music or even a smell? This is the trauma brain at work, constantly on the lookout for further trauma. It is quite separate from our wise and adaptive adult responses. Calming the trauma response and strengthening the adult ‘wise’ mind is where counselling, in particular EMDR and other trauma therapies can help.
Eye Movement, Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, was designed to disconnect the painful, emotional responses in the present from those past memories and traumas. It was first discovered in the late 1980s by Dr Francine Shapiro, an American psychologist, who serendipitously discovered EMDR during her famous “walk in the woods”, where she noticed that upsetting thoughts and feelings lessened when she sporadically moved her eyes from side to side. One of my colleagues and mentors in the United States jokes in his training workshops that the more likely version of the story is that Shapiro really discovered EMDR when she was in a Macy’s (equivalent to Myer or David Jones in Australia) car park looking frantically from side to side to find her car!
When a trauma or overwhelming adverse event occurs, it seems to get locked in the nervous system with the original picture, sounds, thoughts and feelings and this is why it can be retriggered in the present. The eye movements used in EMDR seem to unlock the nervous system and allow the mind and body to let go of the experience. Perhaps similar to the processing that occurs during REM (or Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.
For a lot of people who have experienced significant trauma though, the idea of actually consciously recalling the traumatic event can be utterly overwhelming in and of itself. What if someone doesn’t want to recall the memory or associated feelings, images or body sensations? That’s when the Flash Technique, developed in mid-2016 by Dr Philip Manfield, becomes important. The Flash Technique is used to help reduce the disturbance associated with painful memories without having to consciously recall the memory or re-experiencing the pain or distress associated with the trauma. This technique can be used as a preparation tool for EMDR or on its own.
While we don’t know the precise mechanism behind how EMDR works, the evidence is well and truly in that it does indeed work and work well.
In Nancy’s case, after a course of EMDR treatment, she described the past memories as more ‘distant’, and she could recall those memories without feeling small, belittled or defenceless. This improved her ability to assert herself and her needs and respond in the moment to criticisms without feeling overwhelmed emotionally or any unpleasant physical sensations (like that finger poking at her).
I for one feel very privileged to be involved in some of the amazing innovations that have made this possible and to be able to help clients unlock themselves from memories and traumas that have often haunted them for decades.
Another year, another season of Married at First Sight and another group of people in desperate need of some real therapy throw their emotional lives under a bus for their 15-minutes of Instagram fame. Call me a cynic and a killjoy, but it’s just so frustrating to watch these people, some of whom seem to have real emotional problems and mental health issues get toyed with for entertainment.
Of course you have to call me a hypocrite too, because I still watch it! But this year more than ever, it’s lost some of it’s guilty pleasure for me. Especially because it must make people wonder just what psychology is good for when so called ‘experts’ pair people up that would be lucky to survive a long elevator ride together, let alone a ‘marriage’.
So I’ve asked our child & family counsellor, Penny, to put some of her thoughts together on the ‘experiment’ that is Married at First Sight.
Well aside from the obvious questionable production choices (such as shamelessly sensationalising someone’s virginal status), there has been something else playing on my mind this season.
Almost all of the participants view marriage as the panacea to their life’s problems.
There’s no doubt in my mind that reality television purposefully uses “sob stories” complete with background orchestral strings in an attempt to tug at my heartstrings. The problem with MAFS, however, is that it touts an expert panel of mental health professionals at the helm. They are highly trained individuals who have an ethical duty to provide services that benefit, not harm. These psychologists, and their data (always with the data), sit down with the participants to discuss what has impeded their ability to have a successful relationship. They highlight their vulnerabilities, nod knowingly, and assure them that this experiment is the right fit for them. Despite hearing details about issues of trust, abandonment, childhood trauma or loss, they agree that it would be an excellent idea to proceed with the experiment and pair them up with a life partner who now has the task of fixing their new husband or wife’s problems.
Here’s a perfect example from a recent episode (before things got really intense between these two):
Following 28-year-old Ines crying to the experts about the loss of her childhood due to war and trauma, she says that she is guarded and pushes people away.
She hopes that “this guy” (remember, a complete stranger!) will be the one to make her feel safe enough to be vulnerable and create happy memories that she never got.
One of the “experts” says that Ines wears a mask to cover the pain for a troubled upbringing.
The other expert responds, “Ines wants love but she wants someone who won’t be scared off before they see the real Ines.”
READ: SHE IS SCARED. FLAG.
The apparent solution? Pair her with Bronson who is “calm, fun and strong” and who has also experienced significant grief and loss. Luckily, “he’s still so easy going” and his light-hearted nature will help break down Ines’ walls.
Yes, they may find common ground in their experiences but this is not the solution to unresolved trauma. What they’re essentially saying is, “If she can learn to trust him, this will be successful” and “It’s up to Bronson to fix Ines’ childhood trauma and resulting defences”.
And we all know just how well that turned out for both of them so far! 3 weeks later there’s been nothing but; verbal abuse, complete contempt and emotional infidelity.
I have to believe that given their training and skills, the MAFS experts would be acutely aware of why some of the participants have had difficulty committing to a serious relationship. I also have to remember that this is television and producers will do anything to boost ratings. In the real world, us “experts” would be encouraging these prospective brides and grooms to look inwards (through therapy, self-reflection, or organic supports) instead of seeking an external person to fix their issues.
Aside from my professional perspective on this, I am recently married following seven years of courtship with my now husband. I have learnt a lot about myself, been to therapy, identified my vulnerabilities, had support from my partner to work through them, and dedicated considerable effort to grow and develop as an individual. I cannot imagine going into a blind marriage with the “baggage” I carried throughout my twenties. It would have been completely unrealistic and unfair on a complete stranger to provide the validation I needed when therapy was absolutely necessary (and boy, did it work wonders).
Let’s just remember that MAFS is a bonkers experiment. There have been 33 ‘relationships’ and only one has succeeded beyond the show. I hope this season is different (sucker for love over here!) but it raises so many questions about what people are seeking through marriage.
What I do know is that it’s more than just having the right person plonked down in front of you. These guys could have been matched with their true soul-mates (if you believe in such things), but if they are not in a place to see it, accept it and work at it, there’s no amount of tropical honeymoons and Gold Coast getaways that are going to turn it into anything real.
“How is it therapy when all you do is play games with them?”
Ah, this question. I’m not going to lie, I get it a lot. It’s okay, though, because I can answer it confidently and I can fully appreciate where a parent is coming from when they ask it. They are investing time, money, and energy into the process and I can only imagine that it seems like a very expensive game of Monopoly if they think that’s all their child does during our hour together!
However, I utilise Play Therapy in my sessions for a number of reasons.
First of all, using play creates a positive learning environment. This is important because the evidence shows that a child’s brain needs to be in a particular state for learning to occur. If a child is stressed, uncomfortable, or threatened with their therapist, their brain will be spending WAY more time finding ways to escape/avoid/lash out as a means of survival. I would rather spend time playing so that my client can pay attention to what I have to say as well have the brain capacity to think, share and process.
Secondly, children’s brains are hardwired to learn by doing, not talking. Play provides a crucial opportunity for a child to learn about themselves and about life lessons that can otherwise seem very arbitrary. For example, parents are always asking me how to teach their child empathy. It’s an incredibly vague and abstract concept for a child to grasp, so one of the best ways for a child to develop empathic tendencies is through play! This could include identifying someone who is disappointed when they lose, praising someone when they play well, or including someone who is being left-out.
Thirdly, it’s an important platform for teaching explicit social skills. Some children struggle to initiate play or do not know what to say or how to behave when playing with their peers. As their therapist, I can role model techniques and strategies for them to try out in their own world (and also highlight when maybe they are saying or doing things that aren’t so helpful!).
Let me offer some examples of how some games are helpful therapeutically:
Teaches responsibility such as through; handling money or in following complex rules;
Promotes delayed gratification as it isn’t a game that can be won quickly; and
Allows for disappointment when other players collect more properties or money than them.
Deals with the influence of luck and relinquishing control;
Needs player to cope with frustration if turn is skipped or reversed or when given a +2 or +4; and
Builds confidence as it can be won without significant skill.
Requires patience as there is no winning along the way, just one winner at the end;
Discourages comparison, such as to other people’s boards or progress; and
Encourages player to focus their attention in finding items on their board.
Promotes skill development in problem solving and strategy; and
Requires clear communication and trust in other game players.
Addresses issues with anticipation or heightened arousal;
Provides opportunity to practice frustration tolerance; and
Allows for brief and passing moments of fear to feel less intense.
Ultimately, the very act of play, in a safe space and within a trusting relationship connects and refines important neural pathways. This is the crux of therapy as we are trying to strengthen connections in the brain that help the client to thrive and weaken connections that are less helpful. Play is rewarding and fulfilling so when I use it as a counsellor, I am confident that children are building positive connections to therapy and will more likely explore overwhelming thoughts and feelings with me, or even feel confident to problem-solve on their own.
So, in answer to the question, how is play NOT therapy?