I often get the question --teens & play therapy, how does that work? Parents look around my office and sometimes think it looks too elementary and their teen won't play in the sand tray. I was surprised too when my first 15 year old client started digging in the sand. I no longer am. There is something about that sand feeling on our fingers we all love. For those who don't go there, I put on my creative hat and figure out what it is they like. Just this morning I was hiking on a trail, picking up sticks and looking for birds with a teen client. My husband asks, "and that's therapy?" I answer with a big YES! Meeting the child where he is, exploring the things he likes to do-that is where I find the "true" self. In order for growth to occur, we must go through the process of "peeling the onion" to find the authentic self. Creative therapies help do this. For those of you who have peeled a real onion, you know there are many layers on top of the core. We are like that too. All of our experiences, our hurts and joys build on each other. When I work with a teen who is struggling with anxiety or depression, even lack of self confidence- I am looking for the layer that began those feelings. I want it exposed and dealt with so it can be peeled off and thrown into the compost. See, we oftentimes hold onto our hurts. This reminds me of an onion that has a bad , mushy spot in it. If the spot isn't cut off, eventually the whole onion becomes rotten and unusable. I look at my clients this way and it helps me better understand the problem and solution. My goal is to help that onion become a part of some sort of fabulous dish by peeling off the rotten parts. Kinda sounds gross, but hey you get the point. Play therapy helps this process because kids don't even know it is happening, even teens aren't clued in. Playing dominos with a teen isn't just about playing dominos. Remember this when you play games with your kids. Think of the onion! Your goal is to get down to the core, the "true" self. Once there-- work can begin, hearts can be changed, tasty dishes can be made. Oh the feeling I get when I witness the onion being peeled in therapy! I will never look at one the same again.
Not only are the flowers starting to pop up everywhere, fresh & new & exciting ideas have been popping into my mind endlessly. I don't believe this is just coincidence. I truly believe God is placing them there. I am trusting Him to show me the work I am to do in our community and I believe He has! Because of this, I am starting several homeschool therapy groups. These groups won't be like what you are imagining either. A fresh idea has come to mind, something that hasn't been done before (at least around these parts anyway)!! I came up with the idea while I was doing a research paper on groups for children a few years ago. I knew back then I had a great thought and I was reminded of it last week. What is it that makes it so great you ask? Sand tray therapy and group work mixed together! As we speak my wood carpenter is diligently making 5 small sand trays to be used by each member of the group. Thank-you Jack! One of the most popular things in my therapy room is my sand tray. Kids of all ages love digging their hands in it. I could go on for endless pages listing all the benefits of sand tray therapy and at some point I probably will, but you have to trust me when I say it works and kids love it! This led me to the idea of incorporating sand tray into group therapy. The combination is going to be epic! Not only is sand tray great in so many ways, so is group therapy. Groups create universality (they learn they aren't the only ones with problems), sharing (they learn to share their feelings and give feedback to their peers appropriately), relationships (they create supportive bonds with others in a safe and structured environment), social skills (they learn and model positive communication skills through social interaction), improved self-esteem (they learn to help others which enhances self-worth), and increased coping skills (they learn ways to deal with their emotions from their peers and therapist). If your child is struggling with anxiety, depression, socialization, a life change or just needs a little extra help dealing with emotions...he/she may greatly benefit from group therapy, especially this one with sand tray therapy as an added bonus! My plan is to have these groups (Mon. at 11:00 Boys ages 9-12) and (Tues. at 11:00 Girls ages 9-12) up and running in the next few weeks! Group sessions will last for 90 minutes. Cost is $100 for 8 sessions if paid in full upfront or $120 for 8 sessions if paid weekly. Stay tuned for more information! If interested contact me so I can reserve your child's spot as they are limited to 4 per group. This is going to be so good, I can't wait to begin!
Play therapy isn't just play
One of the reasons I love doing play therapy is because I get to play! I get to act silly, laugh, dance, sing, draw, go on scavenger hunts and play all kinds of games. This isn't all I am doing, however. I am actually using an intervention that is very therapeutic for kids! Most kids don't realize they are even being "counseled." This is on purpose. I get to see the child for who he really is, not someone he is supposed to be. What child can answer why he is acting or feeling a certain way anyhow? Asking that question is like asking me to do complex algebraic equations. I would answer you with a long, blank stare. The same goes for kids. I very rarely ask a child to tell me why he was punching his brother or feeling sad. Instead of asking, we get to playing. It is amazing the answers I find when I get down on a child's level. In this way, I begin seeing the world through the child's eyes and he communicates with me all kinds of things. This happens because play is a child's language. Children communicate and express themselves best without saying anything at all! That dinosaur world he created isn't really imaginative, it is actually how he views his world, himself right now. He is either the king dinosaur standing on top of the castle or the one buried under the sand. There is no need for me to ask how he feels, I already know. A child gives me all kinds of clues like this during a session. I oftentimes feel like a detective trying to figure it all out. The type of activities a child chooses to play, how he plays them, what he says or doesn't say, even the colors he uses, the pictures he draws all tell me something. While all this is going on, I am also playing the role of a cheerleader. Hey, don't knock it. I was one in high school you know. As the child's cheerleader, I am encouraging him to put it all out there, knock those buildings down, even throw the toy if he wants to. In the playroom different rules apply. He can say and do what he wants. He is the one who is in control. This sense of control is so empowering to kids! It builds confidence and gives freedom! How often is a child allowed to really be who he is and do what he desires? We adults spend most of our time telling kids what to do, how to do it, where & when they should do it. Rarely do they get to call the shots. Because of this difference, play therapy builds trust & mastery. Kids learn what they are good at through creative thinking! Confidence grows! They also learn how to solve problems on their own! They get to think through things without having an adult tell them what to do. I am still amazed at the positive conclusions they most always find. I see bridges being built, two sides compromising, dinosaurs becoming unburied. At this point, we turn on the music and dance! Maybe you will hear it coming through the walls while sitting in the waiting room. We are celebrating success. We dance because hope has been found, lessons have been learned, seeds have been planted, hearts healed! Play therapy isn't just play. It is sooo much more.
Is your child depressed?
It is probably safe to say that all parents have at some point asked themselves this question. Children seem to go through mood swings often. Some days they are up and feeling good, other days not so much. How can you tell, though, if their rollercoaster of emotions are "normal" or something to be concerned about? Just because a child is sad doesn't mean he/she is depressed. There is a difference between the blues and depression. The key to determining the difference is to ask yourself this question . . . "is his sadness disrupting his everyday life?" Unfortunately, depression in children often goes undiagnosed and untreated because it hides under the cover of "normal emotional/psychological changes that occur during growth." Parents sometimes mistake real depression for thoughts of "this is just the ways kids are." What many parents don't know, however, is a child's anger and acting out behavior oftentimes has depression at its root. Here are some signs of depression in children:
-Feelings of hopelessness
-Changes in appetite
-Changes in sleep
-Vocal outbursts or crying
-Physical complaints that are unexplained or reoccur
-Reduced ability to function or do things they usually do
-Low self-esteem, feeling worthless or guilt
-Change in appearance
-Lack of interest in things they used to like
-Risky behaviors: drugs/alcohol/sex
The good news is---depression is treatable! These feelings can go away with the proper help. This isn't a forever thing! There is hope!
Parents must get this help for their child sooner rather than later. The earlier intervention occurs, the better chance for success! If you are at all thinking this could be your child, please don't wait for the symptoms to progress. Let me help you! We can figure this thing out together and get your child back on the right road. One of the biggest mistakes parents sometimes make is ignoring it, hoping it will just get better on its own. Sometimes it takes more than that and seeking help isn't an admission of failure, it is actually an act of love.
If you see any of these red flags call me or someone else immediately (I do make house calls when necessary!)
-Self harm: cutting, burning, pulling hair out, scratching self. tattooing self
-Suicidal talk, thoughts, actions of any kind
-Extreme risky behavior-(actually a form of harming self)
-Binge eating, throwing up, overeating (another form of self harm)
My heart hurts when I see the statistics on the amount of children dealing with depression. It has become an epidemic that seeds of hope can help!
A season for everything!
Everything has a beginning and an end! I feel that is especially true for me right now. I say this with excitement as I venture out into the world of starting my own practice. I have to pinch myself to even believe I have finally arrived here. It's taken some seasons of personal growth & challenge to get to this point. It seems too good to be true at times. Life is like that though. Sometimes we feel as if everything is going our way. Other times we feel like nothing is. Our lives go through seasons. Believe me when I say I am glad to be out of the "changing diapers stage". But this has led me to the teenage years. Sometimes I wonder which stage is worse. Diapers aren't the only things that stink, they are just a little bit more easily disposed of than teenage stuff. Even so, I am especially thankful for what God has given me today. The call I have felt to help children & teens by planting seeds of hope is finally a reality. I am ready! Bring on the season!
Stacey Lewis, MA
Family Therapist. Wife.