When Passion Shows Up

I’ll never forget the first time I saw play therapy. When my late supervisor allowed me to observe my first play therapy session I fell in love at first sight. It felt right. It felt natural to me and I loved how it worked with where the child was in their development.


That session was a pivotal moment for me. It started a passion that motivated me to pursue my career and specialty as a play therapist and play therapist supervisor. I had so much to learn, but it didn’t stop me from moving towards my goals.


I had no idea what kind of challenges lay ahead, including difficult work environments, heavy caseloads, and the level of trauma and complex issues that my young clients face with courage.


I have non-therapist friends ask me “how do you work with …(place favorite issues here). What I tell people (and myself when I’m faced with challenges of my job) is that yes, but I get to see a child heal from a trauma, connect with their parent, make new friends, learn how to stop being afraid and live a full life. I get to watch people heal and increase their faith in their God and themselves. I get to spend my day alongside young ones who deal with so much they should be too young for.


At the end of the day it’s encouraging work. It’s worth it. Some cases are sad. True. I have to constantly balance my work life, and personal life, true. I have to keep my emotions in check sometimes and my support systems close. But at the end of the day, it’s worth it.


What’s your passion? What fuels you? Leave a Comment Below about how you found your passion.

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How Do I Help a Child Involved in Bullying? Show Notes from Justice For Nate

girl with paint on faceiStock_000063932169_MediumLast April I had the amazing opportunity to be interviewed on Thrive Global Network in response to a death of Nate Wombles
Unfortunately many children and even adults are involved in the bullying cycle.

Many parents feel stuck  if their child is involved in a bullying situation. How do you teach your child to respond without egging on the child who bullies?

What is Bullying, and What do I do about it?

Bullying is aggressive, threatening behavior by one child or adult towards another child/adult. The whole goal of the bully is to gain power or control over a person who they perceive is weaker than them.

Bullying can be verbal, emotional or physical or through technology, called “Cyberbullying.”


Bullying can occur either by one person or groups. Groups of bullies may also be called gangs.

Bullying is not just for kids, bullying can occur at any age, even into adulthood.

What roles do people play in a bullying situation?

There are different roles students play in a bullying situation.

The person doing the bullying

The person being bullied

Someone who is both bullied and being a bully towards others.

Those who defend or stand up for the person being bullied.

Those who assist the bully.

Those who reinforce the bully by becoming bystanders.

A person can both be the victim of bullying and also bully others at the same time.

What are signs a child is being bullied?

Signs a child may be a bullying victim are:

Unexplained bruises, scrapes or marks

Changes in behavior such as eating habits, nightmares, stomach aches, making excuses to not go to school, ride the bus.

Unexplained  damage or loss of belongings

Child coming home hungry

Changes in grades

Child becomes sad, anxious, angry, or depressed

Child beginds withdrawing from others

Stops hanging around friends

Sources:  http://www.stopbullying.gov/“Bullies are a pain in the brain”, and www.Safechild.net

What do I do if I think my child is being bullied?

What parents can do if a child is being bullied:

  • Address the situation immediately.
  • If you’re not sure communicate with your child by stating the changes you’ve noticed and asking what happened. http://info.character.org/blog/bid/128143/19-Signs-Your-Child-Is-Being-Bullied-and-What-to-Do-about-It
  • Role play ways to respond to the bully with your child.
  • Listen to your child when they want to talk about it.
  • Don’t encourage the child to ignore it or fight back
  • Encourage confidence and assertive communication
  • Talk to your child about who to tell if they are being bullied, create a safety plan with your child.
  • If the school is involved, allow school officials to address the other parents rather than calling them yourself
  • Seek counseling for your child if he or she is in distress (anxious, depressed, withdrawing, etc…)

What your child can co if he or she is being bullied.

The main thing to teach your child about preventing bullying is how to show confidence.

  • Don’t cry, and stay calm (crying gives them satisfaction)
  • Stay away from groups of bullies/gangs
  • Tell an adult if they see weapons, are being teased/bullied, you can help your child make a list of people they can go to
  • Go a different way than the bullies if having to walk home or go to a different part of the playground
  • Spend time with other friends
  • Run away from the situation if they are after them, preferably to an adult he or she trusts.
  • Tell their friends, friends can even help stand up for them.
  • Stick up for him or her self by using a confident voice “I don’t like….”
  • Practice what to say
  • Remember the bully wants power, it is more about their need for power than about you
  • If a child is alone and the bully wants their stuff, teach them to give it to them and leave the situation.

Some don’ts when dealing with bullies (Romain)

  • Don’t cry
  • Stay calm
  • Don’t ignore
  • Don’t taunt the bully.
  • Don’t beg the bully not to hurt you.
  • Don’t believe the names they call you are think negative about yourself
  • Name call back or agree with them
  • Try to fight back

What can bystanders do to help bullying?

“Research shows that bystanders intervene only 20% of the time, but when they do, bullying  stops about 50% of the time,” Bazelon said.

Even the smallest act of intervention can work wonders, she added. “Bystanders can help in many ways, simply by standing with the victim or touching their shoulder during an incident, or even by sending a supportive text or calling them on the phone afterward.” http://info.character.org/blog/bid/177221/Be-More-Than-a-Bystander-Speak-Up-Against-Bullying-and-Violence

  • Stand up for the person being bullied
  • Don’t give bullying an audience
  • Help the child being bullied get away without getting yourself in harms way.
  • Tell a trusted adult
  • Be friends

What teachers and schools and organizations can do if bullying is occurring:

First get the facts from multiple sources.

  • Listen to those involve without judgement or labeling
  • Separate children involved
  • Make sure person doing bullying knows what the problem is
  • Identify reasons child may have bullied
  • Have clear consequences:
  • have class discussion, role play situations
  • Attempt to help children make amends
  • stopbullying.gov has several tips on involving person doing bullying in consequences , including apology letters, doing good deeds, and what to stay away from
  • Provide opportunites for bullying education

Signs your child is bullying other children:

  • Gets into frequent arguments or fights with others
  • Is angry
  • Blames others for their problems
  • Unexplained new belongings or money
  • Frequent trips to the principle’s office at school.

There is a quiz at the end of Bullies are a Pain in the Brain to screen if your child is bullying others.

What to do if your child is bullying others?

  • Don’t get defensive, take responsibility for your child.
  • Talk to your child to tell you what happened and listen to their side.
  • Try to find out the issue your child is dealing with that led to the bullying behavior.
  • Set limits.
  • Apply consequences to the behavior
  • Provide alternatives to aggressive behavior.
  • Ask your child how you can help.
  • Seek professional help for your child if necessary to deal with the source of the issue.

Why do people bully others? According to stompoutbullying.org

  • Power and Control is the main issue surrounding bullying behavior
  • Sometimes someone else is also bullying the child
  • Child may be having difficulties at home or have experienced abuse, neglect or witnessed aggressive behavior themselves
  • To avoid getting bullied
  • For social power
  • Some plan their bullying and are liked by others but not their victims

Why don’t kids tell?

stopbullying.gov reported on the Indicators of School Crime and safety that bullying is reported to adults less than 40% of the time

  • Feeling helpless
  • Fear or intimidation by others
  • Not wanting to be seen as a tattletale
  • Feelings of isolation and withdrawal

What are the risk factors for being bullied?

It’s important to note that while these are risk factors, not all children with these characteristics are bullied.

  • Seen as quiet or different by other children
  • Difficulty speaking up for themselves
  • Difficulty with peer relationships
  • Are anxious, depressed or low self esteeme

What are the risk factors for bullying?

There are two types of those who bully defined by stopbullying.gov

Those whose goals are concerned with popularity, power, control.

Those who are more isolated, have low self esteem, less involved in school, less social involvement with peers.

Other risk factors include:

  • Are aggressive
  • More difficulties at home
  • View violence as a way to handle their problems
  • Less involvement from parents,
  • Negative view of others
  • Difficulty following rules
  • Have friends who bully

What are the long term consequences of bullying?

  • A NY Times article summaries a study by the JAMA network on psychiatry that found long term consequences of childhood bullying into young adulthood.
  • Young adults were interviewed/assessed on which role they played in the bullying scenario and placed into different groups
  • Outcomes included increased anxiety and panic for those who were victims, increased panic for those who were both bullies and victims and increased instance of adult antisocial behavior for those who were bullies but not victims.

“A very small number of bullied children might retaliate through extremely violent measures. In 12 of 15 school shooting cases in the 1990s, the shooters had a history of being bullied.” www.stopbullying.org

Resources and links

“Bullies are a Pain in the Brain” written and illustrated by Trevor Romain

“Cyber Bullying Not More” by Holli Kenley, MA







Sandtray Therapy Introduction For Parents and Counselors

I love using Sandtray Therapy with my clients. I learned about sandtray therapy as a graduate student during my internship with domestic violence victims. I find that most of my clients (even adults!) are drawn to it, and it fascinates me every time to see how it brings out issues that many people were not aware before how much it impacted them. I wanted to introduce you to my colleague, Amy Flaherty to give you an introduction to what sandtray therapy is, how to learn the process of sandtray therapy, and what to ask for if you are a parent of a child looking for more information, or an adult seeking therapy.

Tell Us About Yourself

My name is Amy Flaherty and I’m a Licensed Psychological Examiner-Independent in Northeast Arkansas. I have an unusual license through the psychology board in Arkansas that allows me do both psychological testing and counseling. I’m also a Registered Play Therapist. I have been in private practice at True Hope Counseling since 2007. My ideal clients are kids, teens, and those who feel alone and without hope. My passion, far and away, is sandtray therapy.

How did you find out about sand tray therapy?

 I fell in love with sandtray therapy when I did my first training several years ago. I had a weekend where I had to take an introduction to sandtray course as part of my training to be a play therapist. This was my “road to Damascus” moment. After doing this training, I KNEW I found the tool I had been looking forward to access that stuff with clients that you just can’t get with words- the early trauma or subconscious material that runs our lives, both as kids and as adults.


What is sandtray therapy?

Sandtray therapy is a way of working with your whole brain using the tools of sand and miniatures. It’s fun, easy to do, and non-threatening but oh so powerful. The instructions are to place the miniatures (which are just small items- anything in the world from houses to jewels) in the sand to represent your world as the client. With little ones, they do this without instruction because they have the natural protection of the umbrella of play. Kids gravitate towards the sand almost every session and adults find it is a way to access feelings and thoughts they were not able to put into words previously.


Who is it for? What problems does it treat?

Sandtray therapy is for every age. The beauty is that it will work with a three year old and a ninety three year old.

The brain will get accomplish what it needs through the tools of the sand and miniatures and the safe environment the therapist provides. It has been shown to be effective with a wide range of diagnoses and issues, from learning problems and behavior difficulties to dementia.


What happens during a sandtray therapy session?

Sandtray sessions look very different with different ages. With children who have not developed abstract thought yet, they play in the sand and tell stories about what is happening, which may or not be related to what is literally happening in their world. It may look on the outside that the child is “just playing” but the brain is working hard to integrate all of the feelings and thoughts that are coming together through the story telling in the sand tray. All of the five senses are used which promotes integration of the brain. The more integration you get the higher level of insight, morality, and empathy. My job in the sandtray session with a child is to reflect what is happening in the sandtray and hold the safe space so that whatever comes out in the sandtray is understood and validated.


With teenagers and adults, the sandtray process tends to be much more static. When they are directed to make a tray representing their world, they will place objects representing parts of their life, both real and metaphorical. For example, the miniature of the two-faced man may represent an ex-husband or a boss.

Through the making of the tray and the use of their hands, the right brain is accessed, which is the part of the brain where our feelings, emotions, early memories and trauma lie. Through the processing or telling the story of the sandtray, the client is able to access those parts of the right brain that may have not been assessable just through talk therapy. The interweaving of both parts of the brain is the power behind the sandtray. I’ve seen one sandtray session equal three to four regular talk therapy session in terms of progress for the client.

What does brain integration mean?

Brain integration happens when the different parts of the brain are all used at the same time. Before the brain is integrated, the different parts of the brain are all doing their assigned functions without really communicating with each other. When the whole brain communicates, then integration occurs. The more information that is shared between the different parts of the brain, the greater the integration. The greater the integration, the greater the chance for the higher level skills to develop, such as empathy, insight and morality. Before the brain is able to integrate through methods such as sandtray, it is like putting together a puzzle with only half of the picture available. You can put the puzzle together, but only with the parts that you have available

How do you explain sandtray therapy to parents? To your clients?

With parents or clients who may be skeptical of sandtray, I explain it in terms of neuroscience- how using objects can help us access parts of our stories that we may not be aware of or just aren’t ready to face. I explain that it is a tool that also helps me as a therapist to more fully understand the client’s world and gain a better perspective on how I can help.

For children, very little explanation is needed. They usually just say, “Sand!” and start putting miniatures in the sand tray.


Are there special training or certification a sand tray therapist goes through?

Currently, no special certifications are legally required to do sandtray therapy. In spite of this, it is only ethical to use techniques and tools we have been trained in as therapists. I recommend at least a two day experiential training in sandtray to obtain a good understanding of not only the what of sandtray but really the WHY as well. I’ve seen the power of sandtray be able to heal others; however, its power can also be dangerous if not used properly. I’ve heard stories from other therapists of those who have actually caused harm and even suicidal behaviors from not understanding the power of the sandtray. Some things are repressed because they are scary, so once the sandtray reveals these, we as therapists need to be able to handle what comes up through the sandtray.

To help with training therapists in the sandtray method with quality, brain-informed trainings, I am launching a new training program, the Southern Sandtray Institute. Trainings will be conducted in a step-up format ensuring that the basics are learned well before advanced content is given. The certification of Registered Integrative Sandtray Therapist (RIST) will also be provided to those who choose to do advanced trainings and individual case consultations.


If I’m a parent of a child or a potential client interested in sand tray How do I find a counselor who does that?


If you are interested in your child using sandtray therapy, look for a play therapist. Almost all play therapists use sandtray therapy in their work. If you are an adult or teenager looking for a therapist who uses sandtray, ask any potential therapists if they use any experiential therapies. Most therapists who are into sandtray will have this featured on their website. Most who do one training fall in the love with the method and will feature it as a specialized technique.

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For More Information about Amy and her Counseling Services Visit True Hope Counseling

Amy is launching a new sandtray training company coming October 8, 2014. For more information about training visit Southern Sandtray I can’t wait to see it!

What’s your experience with sandtray therapy? Tell about your experience in the comments below ↓

5 Things Everyone Ought to Know about Surviving as a Play Therapist

The life of a play therapist can be pretty hectic sometimes, especially if you throw in a family, social life, and managing your own problems. These are 5 things that I do that help me to be a better play therapist.

Create a Set Work Schedule


I wake up and each day my schedule is different. I work many after school hours, mainly afternoons and evenings. I set regular hours that I schedule clients to help stay organized and balance between work and family life.


Have Go-to Creative Activities for My Clients


Before my clients arrive, I review notes, and plan the session. However, children can often be unpredictable. I remain flexible about what a child needs that day, so I have go-to activities always prepared to meet their changing needs. I use www.angriesout.com, www.creativecounseling101.com, www.lianalowenstein.com, www.pinterest.com for ideas.


Create a Trusting Relationship with Caregivers


If it’s my first session with a family, I meet with caregivers to identify the main reasons for seeking therapy. I involve parents weekly in sessions to discuss behavior issues, family stressors, child’s progress in therapy, and how to implement changes at home.


Consult with Other Counselors


Sometimes I have been working with a client for a long time, or a child has a particularly complex case. If I am stuck on a case, I seek out another therapist’s perspective to learn new ideas for a case. I have relationships with colleagues and mentors that I trust when I seek out another opinion.


Practice Self Care


I hear troubling stories, from sexual abuse, to neglect, to loss of a loved one. It can sometimes feel exhausting. In order to prevent burnout I participate in activities to relieve stress. I find journaling, being social, reading a novel, watching movies with my husband, going to church on a regular basis, and also writing to help.


I love that I witness children heal everyday, and families change. I use these techniques to remain balanced, focused, and keep the child’s needs first.


How do you survive as a play therapist or in your chosen career? Leave a comment below.

How to Talk to Children About Tragedies in the News: Wisdom from the Late Mr. Rogers

The recent tragedy in Boston may leave parents wondering how to address devestating news with young children. While I want so much to shield my own child from these horrible disasters in the news, it is realistic that he may hear about it from some other sources. I think Mr. Rogers addresses these issues the best.

Fred Rogers Talks about Tragedies in the News

Mr. Rogers: Look for the Helpers

Huffington Post: Article Highlighting Wisdom from Mr. Rogers


My Top 10 Favorite Gifts for the Play Therapy Room


As a play therapist people are always asking me what I need to complete my play therapy room, which of course I answer a play room is never really done.  Here is a list of  10 items to give your play therapist this Christmas. Play therapists, feel free to add your top favorite gifts for your playroom in the comments!
1. Sandtray miniatures
2. Art supplies
3. Gift cards to craft stores or toy stores
4. Dollhouse furniture
5. Children’s books or activity books
6. People (can be family figures or people in the neighborhood)
7. Puppets
9. Board games
10. Sand!
You can find these items many places online, and of course at your regular retailers, like Target and Walmart.
I like:

Benefits of Therapy – Sam Feels Better Now! An Interactive Story for Children

Read the Most Recent Review of Sam Feels Better Now! and Interactive Story for Children.

Benefits of Therapy – Sam Feels Better Now! An Interactive Story for Children

Please Explain “Anxiety” To Me by Laurie Zelinger, PHD and Jorden Zelinger

 I am always looking for ways to explain anxiety to children in a way that they will understand. I use a lot of stories in play therapy because I love the simple way that children’s books present difficult issues. That is why I am glad to have read Please Explain “Anxiety” to Me by  Laurie Zelinger, PhD, MS, RPT-S &; Jordan Zelinger, Illustrated by: Elisa Sabella. It begins by using dinasaurs to explain the “fight or flight” response and then relates what they needed to survive with the human fight or flight response. It uses easy to understand terms to help the reader to identify signs of anxiety and understand why people experience anxiety. I have read this story to adult and children who are dealing with post traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders. The pictures are colorful and help explain the story visually. I like how it uses a simple illustration and clear explanations of anxiety and how it affects a person. The illustrations are colorful and add to the content of the book. I definitely recommend this book to therapists and parents who need to communicate what anxiety is using concise language.

To Purchase Please Explain “Anxiety” To Me, visit your favorite bookseller:

Barnes and Noble:Available in paperback and Nook format
Amazon: Available in paperback, hardcover and kindle
Loving Healing Press

You can visit Laurie’s website and see the other books she has written and learn more about her services and background as a play therapist. I look forward to seeing future children’s books from this author.

When to worry about kids’ temper tantrums

When to worry about kids’ temper tantrums

An interesting article on how to differentiate between normal pre-school aged tantrums and something that is a clue that something more is going on.

Ten Questions to Ask When Looking for a Therapist

question markSometimes when you are entering therapy for the first time at an agency or private practice it’s hard to know if you are making the right choice for your child. Think about it, when looking for a therapist, many people look up their insurance provider list, find a few names, ask a friend, pastor or teacher, and maybe look them up on the web. The following are ten things parents should ask when finding a therapist for their child.

1. What is your background in (_child’s problem__)

2. What are your fees, and do you take my insurance.

3. How long have you been practicing

4. How much will I as a caregiver be involved in my child’s therapy

5. What methods do you use (i.e. play therapy, theoretical background)

6. Can I get information about (play therapy, sandtray,) or Can you explain it to me?

7. How will I know if therapy is the right choice for my child?

8. How much will I as a parent be involve?

9. How long will therapy last?

10. What do you do if for some reason my child needs to see someone else?