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Play Therapy in Action

The stories on this page are provided simply to clarify the process of play therapy and are not based on actual clients. Any likeness to actual persons is purely coincidental. These are not client testimonials as client confidentiality is highly protected at Shannon Deets Counseling LLC and asking a client to provide a testimonial could potentially expose them to being identified as a client.

Jesse's story (Sand Tray Therapy)

Jesse was a 12 year old girl who was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. She had a difficult time expressing her emotions and frequently would get into trouble for tantrums and behavioral outbursts in the home and school. She had tried traditional "talking therapy" with several different therapists and it never seemed to help. At first when play therapy was suggested to her she refused and said that it was for babies. The therapist brought the sand tray and miniatures into the main therapy office and encouraged Jesse just to play in the sand while they spoke. On the third session, Jesse created a scene in the sand tray but did not provide much detail about it. On the fifth session, Jesse designed an elaborate scene in the sand tray which consisted of two separate sides. She explained to the therapist that the right side was how she felt when she was happy and the left side was how she felt when she was "manic" and got into trouble. The therapist saved Jesse's scene and over the following weeks worked with Jesse to manipulate the scene and help Jesse vocalize her feelings. As Jesse and the therapist worked together, her father began to get phone calls from Jesse's teachers saying that she had shown tremendous improvement in her behavior and asking what had caused the change. Jesse completed therapy, and was much better able to vocalize her feelings, she showed improvement in her behavior in school and at home, and made the honor roll.

Jamison's Story (Non-Directive Child Centered Play Therapy)

Jamison was a six year old boy who came to therapy after he began having nightmares following a burglary at his home. His mother told the therapist that he had also begun to hiss at people and destroy objects of minor value (ripped papers, broke his toys, broke his teacher's pencil box). Upon entering the play room he immediately hissed at the therapist. The therapist acknowledged his hissing by stating in a positive voice "I hear you're hissing". This was a different reaction than Jamison usually received upon his hissing at his teacher, his parents, or even other children. Jamison was informed of the rules of the playroom. He was told that he was allowed to play with anything he wanted, whenever he wanted, but that he was not allowed to hurt himself, the therapist, or the toys. If he wanted to destroy things he was welcome to tear apart the newspaper and egg cartons in the box at the end of the room. Jamison chose to play with the snakes in the sand box. The therapist noticed that he would hide the snakes under the sand and would then hiss loudly and make the snakes burst to the top of the sand. After he had done this several times he went to the box of newspapers and began to tear them apart. The therapist tracked Jamison's actions and verbally acknowledged them in a positive manner. After a few sessions of the therapist tracking his behavior, Jamison responded to the therapist by saying "I'm ripping up bad guys". Following a few more sessions, the therapist established a theory that Jamison was using hissing to warn others to stay away from him when he was frightened. She checked with Jamison regarding this theory and he agreed. He then began to discuss that snakes never had to worry about "bad guys" breaking into their houses because they could bite the bad guys. As Jamison's play advanced he began to hiss less and less and started telling the therapist about how he could protect himself and his mother and also discussed how scared he was the night of the burglary. The therapist continued to help Jamison recognize his strengths and abilities and helped Jamison understand that anyone in that situation would be frightened. Gradually Jamison's destructive behaviors disappeared as he learned to regain his self-confidence.

Jose's story (Expressive Therapy/Comic Book)

José was a 15 year old boy who was very interested in comic books. He was having a great deal of difficulty as he was frequently depressed. Formerly a good student, his grades had begun to slip and he seemed to lose interest in his friends and family. His mother brought him to counseling after he began to spend most of his time sleeping or alone in his room. José did not want to participate in counseling because he thought it was something that only "crazy" people needed. He had no interest in talking to the therapist because he said that she wouldn't understand him. When the therapist learned that José had an interest in comic books, she encouraged him to create a comic character. Over several sessions, José began to create a story using the comic character. The therapist helped José bring out the motivations, strengths, challenges, and personality of the character. As the story progressed, the therapist helped José see the similarities that he shared with the comic character. Eventually it became clear that José was having a difficult time fitting in at school. He was also angry that his father, who he had not seen since he was a baby, was not involved in his life. Working with the therapist, José was able to process his feelings regarding his father and build confidence in himself. He began to reach out to others and developed a stronger relationship with his mother and also with several close friends.

Julia's story (Expressive Therapy/Movement)

Julia was a 30 year old woman. She had been a victim of childhood sexual abuse. She was doing well in traditional therapy and had processed much of her past trauma. She was managing her symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder moderately well but there was still some nagging discomfort. The therapist suggested that she begin to process the trauma that remained through Julia's connection (or lack thereof) to her body. Julia decided to give it a try. At first she felt silly swaying and moving in front of the therapist. She attempted to get the exercises that the therapist taught her "correct" instead of truly experiencing them. Gradually she felt less self conscious and was able to immerse herself in the experience and began to tell her story through movement. She noticed that the discomfort began to lessen. The therapist discussed the connection between the mind and body and how some healing from trauma requires us to work through the body first. Julia decided to continue using movement to help her process feelings and events when she was "stuck".

As shown in the last example, Play Therapy is not just for kids. Adults often find many of the techniques helpful as well.

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