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.

Talking to Children about Hurricanes

Wondering how to talk to your children about preparing and the effects of hurricanes? Sesame Street has developed a hurricane tool kit to assist parents and children in talking about and preparing for a natural disaster. There are 5 videos, each discussing different aspects of preparation and also tips on dealing with the aftermath, such as having a routine, finding support, and self care. I watched several of the video clips, each about 15 minutes long, and they show realistic emotions, preparations and after effects. You can check out www.sesamestreet.org, click on the parents section and click on the tool kits tab. There are other topics addressed as well. As a therapist, I appreciate the approach that the folks at Sesame Street took on dealing with a disaster that can cause lots of instability for children and their families.

“Always My Brother” Interview with author Jean Reagan about Sibling Death

Always My Brother CoverI am thrilled to post this interview of author Jean Reagan, who is the author of “Always My Brother.” “Always My Brother” is a story for children who are dealing with sibling death. This is the first book I have read on this specific form of grief, and I highly recommend it for use with clients, and for parents who may be dealing with their own child’s death. Please visit Jean’s website and read the Story Behind section if you would like more information about their journey of grief, and inspiration for this book.

1. What inspired you to make this a children’s book?

First, some background. In 2005 after a roller-coaster year of hopes and setbacks, our nineteen-year old son, John, died of a drug overdose Jane, our seventeen-year old daughter became an only child. As we faced our grief, I watched how the death of a sibling is discounted. Well-meaning people offered me (and my husband) comfort, but rarely seemed to acknowledge Jane’s tragic loss.

Through research I learned that sibling death is often considered the unrecognized grief.Surviving siblings are sometimes even admonished to be “extra good,” because their parents are grieving.In “ALWAYS MY BROTHER,” I wanted to honor siblings for the devastating loss they face, to normalize the contradictory emotions they experience, and to offer them realistic hope.

I chose to write a picture book rather than a teen book for several reasons.A. There are many teen books about loss of all kinds, including sibling death.B. There are no picture books aimed at a young audience on this topic.(In fact, a “Needed Subjects” column in a writers’ magazine expressed a need for picture books about the death of a sibling.)C. As an author, picture books are what I write.

On a personal level, I wrote this book because I wanted my daughter to understand that at some level I understand the utter devastation of her loss.

Because “ALWAYS MY BROTHER” is aimed at children it does not exactly mirror our own family story.I made the characters younger and did not specify the cause of death.Yet the book reflects the emotions and experiences of our grief journey.For example, I made sure to include a returning-to-school scene, because that is a particularly tough step for grieving children.

For the grieving child or family I wanted to:

  • portray and affirm their often confusing, contradictory emotions.
  • offer realistic hope that with the passage of time the gripping, paralyzing pain would ease as the family members cherish and honor the memories of their loved one.
  • create opportunities for shared conversations.

For friends, extended family, classmates, and teachers observing the grief I wanted to:

  • provide a window for them to see and better understand the internal grief.
  • create opportunities for conversation.
  • foster courage in them to reach out to the grieving child or family.

2. Have you written other books before?

I had written over ten picture-book manuscripts, all silly and quirky. “ALWAYS MY BROTHER” was the first one I sold. When I told my daughter I had sold a manuscript, this one, she hugged me and said, “That’s the one I wanted you to sell.”

My second book, “HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDPA,” will be published by Knopf in the spring of 2012, in time for Fathers’ Day! And, yes, it’s silly and quirky.

3. Besides writing, what else do you do (do you have another job, stay at home, etc..?)

For four months each summer, my husband and I serve as wilderness volunteers in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. We live in a patrol cabin that has no running water or electricity. There are bars on the windows, to keep out the bears. To reach the cabin you hike (or canoe) four miles from the nearest parking lot. Our patrol area has twelve shoreline campsites scattered across three lakes. We love being surrounded by nature, and we love visiting with hikers and campers from all over the world.

The rest of the year I write and enjoy modern conveniences!

4. What is the main lesson you want children to gain from this book?

I want grieving children to feel acknowledged for their loss, comforted that their contradictory, raw emotions are “okay” and normal, and reassured that their excruciating pain will lighten as time goes on because they carry their loved one’s memory with them always, in their daily life.

5. What would you tell another parent going through the loss of a child?

If possible, seek out peers for you and your child. By “peers” I mean other parents who have lost children and other children who have lost siblings. Many hospitals and therapy centers have grief groups for all ages. Compassionate Friends is a national non-profit organization that offers comfort, resources, and workshops for grieving families. There are local chapter meetings throughout every state. I am also deeply grateful to my two friends who had lost children before me, because they helped “light the path” on my grief journey. They still do.

Writing in a journal always felt like a chore to me. Yet, after John died, I found it very helpful. I didn’t write poetically or lyrically. In fact mostly I made lists. Lots and lots of lists. And they were most definitely NOT “to do” or “should” lists, but instead were “memory,” “wailing,” or “questions” lists. (The latest issue of Grief Digest includes my article, “Baby Steps for the Non-Journaler.”)

Keep talking.Within your immediate family, your broader family.With friends.With colleagues, neighbors, and co-workers.

6. Are you working on any new writing projects for children?

I am in the early stages of two picture book manuscripts: one about a father and toddler’s outing to a park and another one about a new sibling. Fingers crossed that these will become books one day!

7. What would you like for child therapists to know about counseling a child and family who has lost a sibling/child?

Our therapist told my husband and me, “Be gentle with yourself.And be gentle with each other.”We both found that very helpful, especially as we faced particularly difficult and dark moments.

We all grieve differently; there is no right or wrong way to grieve.That can be a hard thing for couples (or family members) to understand.For example, my husband has never read my book.He is very supportive in every way, (He wrote John’s obituary, he faced the media, he created my website, etc.) yet he does not have the emotional strength to face the fictional grief in my book.He is already dealing with all he can.I am perfectly fine and understanding of this.We all do what we can and don’t do what we can’t.

A book I found particularly helpful is A Broken Heart Still Beats: After Your Child Dies. Two grieving mothers (a journalist and psychotherapist) organize a remarkable compilation of poetry, fiction, essays, and journal entries about the pain of losing a child.

8. What are the top 3 things that helped your family through this loss?

Our family has always been open and honest that drug overdose is the cause of John’s death.For us, this decision has made conversations about his death and our grief easier, more helpful, and less guarded.Grieving is devastating enough without coping with layers of judgment or shame!

Anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays are particularly difficult.(As much as I heard this, I was still surprised, over and over.)Creating alternative activities while hanging onto cherished traditions is tricky, but critical to try to balance.Anticipating and planning ahead helps.We joined other families in their celebrations or we traveled to other places to help “mix up” our traditions.

Just like the family of four in “ALWAYS MY BROTHER,” our family became a family of three.I remember telling the therapist that our family now felt like a three-legged dog, but then right away adding, “But not happy, like all three-legged dogs seem to be.”The three-legged dog became my analogy for how our family of three will always be missing that “fourth,” but that we would learn to “walk” again and to be happy.Consequently I included the three-legged dog metaphor in my book.

_____________________Jean small

For more about my grief journey or about my writing journey, visit www.jeanreagan.com.

“Always My Brother” Can be purchased at: Amazon, Tilbury House, and other major book sellers.

Favorite Therapeutic Activities for Children, Adolescents and Families: Practitioners Share their Most Effective Interventions


lowenstein_2006I am always looking for free or low cost resources, as I am a therapist on a budget (and I am sure there are many of you out there like me!). With so much info on the web it’s hard to narrow down what’s good, what’s not, and how I can find the resources I need for my clients without spending a fortune. That’s why I am soooo glad that I was sent this free copy of Favorite Therapeutic Activities for Children, Adolescents and Families: Practitioners Share their Most Effective Interventions, Edited By Liana Lowenstein, MSW, RSW, CPT-S.

This ebook is a compilation of over 100 pages of techniques submitted by multiple therapists. It is divided in to different sections: 1. Engagement and Assessment Interventions, 2. Treatment Interventions, and 3. Termination Interventions. Each intervention lists goals of the intervention, materials, advanced preparation, and detailed instructions. As I read through some of the descriptions, I found them easy to follow and detailed enough that I felt that I could easily follow the intervention. The list of contributors includes 35 different therapists, many of which are authors/presenters themselves. The best part is, that the interventions come from various treatment models, including family, sandtray, and more directive, and also integrative models. I love this, as I pull from various theories myself, and therapists from different backgrounds will all be able to glean from this book due to the wide range of ideas. I recommend this book to any child/adolescent/family therapist looking for creative ideas for their clients, as it is FREE!!! and FULL of creative interventions. What do you have to lose? I will be using this resource for a long time, and can’t wait to try some of the ideas with my clients.


Liana Lowenstein is a presenter and also author of multiple books including:

1. Paper Dolls & Paper Airplanes: Therapeutic Exercises for Sexually Traumatized Children (with Crisci & Lay)

2. Creative Interventions for Troubled Children & Youth

3. Creative Interventions for Children of Divorce.

4. Creative Interventions for Bereaved Children.

5. NEWEST PUBLICATION: Creative Family Therapy Techniques: Play, Art, and Expressive Activities to Engage Children in Family Sessions


She has edited: Volumes One and Two of Assessment and Treatment Activities for Children, Adolescents, and Families: Practitioners Share Their Most Effective Techniques, and will be launching Volume Three this year.


To sign up for the free ebook, visit Liana Lowenstein’s website and sign up for her free monthly newsletter. You can also view her upcoming workshops.

Play Therapy Works!

I stumbled across this video describing the value of play therapy for children who experience emotional and behavioral issues. Check it out, and also check out the Association for Play Therapy website for more info on play therapy and to find a play therapist

Dealing with Dyslexia: Horatio Humble Beats the Big “D,” by Margot Finke

“When Horatio has difficulty reading, his parents meet with the teacher to discover why. Horatio hears the words Dyslexia and Special Ed. “No way! Kids will think I’m dumb.” But he does go and with amazing results.”

I just received a new book by Margot Finke, Illustrated by Ellen Gurak. Horatio Humble Beats the Big “D,” is a book for children dealing with dyslexia. Dyslexia is a common learning disability among children where the brain has difficulty processing written words.

Horatio is an intelligent boy who makes good grades and many school subjects, except for reading. He just can’t make since of all the words. Horatio and his parents go to meet with his teacher and he finds out he has dyslexia. Horatio has many thoughts and emotions about this, and also is worried about what others will think when he has to attend a special class. To his delight, Horatio begins learning ways to read books and even begins to write!

I enjoyed reading this book. The rhyming has a comfortable pace, and the illustrations are colorful and vivid. Margot does a wonderful job of including the symptoms of dyslexia along with common emotions and thoughts a child might have when discovering they have this problem. It also includes a teacher, parent guide in the back with resources and also signs a child might be experiencing dyslexia. I would recommend this book for anyone working with children who have learning disabilities, and plan to use it for my own clients.

Where to buy

Margot’s Book Page

Autographed books available here.



Guardian Angel Publishing


Book Trailer

Margot Finke’s Website