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.
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.
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.
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.
I had the great opportunity to win a copy of Jennifer Gladen’s book, Angel Donor. I am excited to add this book to my collection because I did not have a story on this topic.
“Olivia never asked to have a disease like Biliary Atresia. It made her liver sick and only a transplant will make her better. After waiting several months and close to losing hope, she gets the call she’s been waiting for. The journey of her live is about to begin.”
Interview With Jennifer Gladen:
Hi Jill. Thanks for taking the time to discuss Angel Donor with your readers.
What inspired you to write Angel Donor?
My daughter, Jackie, was born with a liver disease called Biliary Atresia and later needed a liver transplant. She was in and out of hospitals since she was three weeks old. I remember wishing there was something I could read to her to help her get through these times. That’s when the idea for Angel Donor was born. It wasn’t until years later that I was able to bring myself to write it.
What age group is it appropriate for?
Angel Donor fits well with Pre-K and the primary grades.
What were some of the challenges with writing on this topic?
It was very hard to write the truth about Biliary Atresia, liver disease and transplants but at the same time not be too scary for children. Especially since this book is meant to be comforting and something children can identify with.
What is Biliary Atresia?
Biliary Atresia is a childhood liver disease. Children are born with a liver that has blocked bile ducts, which in turn scars the liver and causes infection and more liver damage. Because of liver damage and the bile ducts not draining properly, jaundice (a yellowing of the skin) occurs. Without treatment, the liver can fail.
How is it diagnosed and what kind of treatment would a child with this issue need?
Usually Biliary Atresia is diagnosed when a baby is just a few weeks old. They are jaundiced and don’t eat well. If Biliary Atresia is suspected, the doctor will order blood tests, X-rays, and a liver biopsy.
There is no cure for Biliary Atresia. The initial treatment is to perform a surgery to restore the bile flow to the bile ducts outside the liver. Some patients do well with this treatment but most children with this diagnosis need a liver transplant because gradual liver damage continues to develop.
How can this affect a child and his or her family emotionally?
I think different children handle this situation in different ways. They feel a range of emotions. There are a bunch of hospital visits, emergencies and a host of experiences, which can make a child anxious. For example, my daughter Jackie didn’t like the highway for the longest time because when we went on the highway it usually meant we were going to the hospital. However, in our experience my daughter seemed to understand the “bad stuff”, i.e: needles, IVs, etc were to help get her better. My advice is during hospital stays, take advantage of your Child Life Specialists (http://www.childlife.org ) They help the child handle what is going on psychologically when a child is in the hospital.
In my book Angel Donor, Olivia is painting a picture in the playroom. Usually a large playroom like that is run by Child Life specialists. My daughter knows many Child Life Specialists. They helped her understand the medical procedures. Jackie used pretend play where she put an IV into her doll. Her favorite, however, was painting and art. All these activities make the hard times easier to deal with.
The emotional effects on the rest of the family are just as tough. Parents and siblings are worried about the child. Routines are disrupted. Parents of more than one child are torn between their responsibilities of being with the child in the hospital and being with the rest of their children.
What advice would you give to parents whose children need organ transplant?
I have a bunch of advice I’ve collected over the last ten years. The first is to ask, ask, ask. Ask questions when you don’t understand what is going on with your child. Also if you research online about the disease, be sure to talk to your child’s doctor. Not everything we see online is 100% fact. And your doctor knows your child.
Get support. This is what kept me sane 🙂 . There are groups and websites designed to offer support, information and advice. Again, the information is not mean to replace your doctor’s advice. Always go to them when there is a problem or a question about your child’s medical care. Having said that, these groups are filled with other parents who have “been there”.
What tips could you give a therapist on how to support a child and his or her family with this issue?
I think a therapist could do many of the things a Child Life Specialist might so, such as the medical play techniques or draw about their feelings. Jackie loved to pretend to put an IV in my arm. She continued doing that long after she came home from her hospital stays.
A Star in the Night was my first book. It is about David, who makes his way home on Christmas Eve and sees this is no ordinary night. Accompanied by a shimmering star and some tough decisions, David encounters three experiences that will change his view of Christmas forever.
Teresa’s Shadow – Teresa’s Shadow isn’t just a story about bedtime and monsters. It’s about fear, friendship and kindness. One night at bedtime Teresa discovers Corky, a furry visitor, in her room. Corky is no ordinary monster. In fact he seems just as scared as Teresa. Teresa soon realizes she must help Corky get home.
When you are not writing, what else do you do?
I work full time as a teacher at a child care center in addition to taking care of my three children.
What writing projects are you working on right now?
I have 2 other books I’m finishing up. Stay tuned…
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)
9. Board games
You can find these items many places online, and of course at your regular retailers, like Target and Walmart.
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:
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.
Sometimes 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?
I receive frequent referrals for children who experience some type of anxiety, and I found a wonderful resource by Paris Goodyear-Brown titled, The Worry Wars: An Anxiety Workbooks for Kids and Their Helpful Adults!. In this book there are three stories addressing three different types of anxiety children might struggle with ; “Daniel the Dragon Slayer,” “Polly vs. Princess Perfect,” and “Oscar and Clyde, the Clinging Octupus.” The illustrations are black and white color-book style and fun, so you could easily have your child color the pages as you read. After that, there are many techniques, activities and reproducible pages that therapists can use, to help their clients cope with anxiety. Some of the activities include shields, bubble blow, and my favorite, the worry worms. I have used the stories over and over with children. They are really helpful metaphors explaining anxiety in a way that children can grasp. I would recommend this resource to others who help children work through anxiety issues, and look forward to trying other recourses by Paris Goodyear-Brown. You can purchase this book, other resources, read her biography, and find out about her counseling services at her website, Paris and Me