I love the smiles and fascination when adult clients first enter my office as they look around the room. So many teens and adult clients walk into my office and say, “Wow you are a collector!” or “My son would love it here.” They do not think that play therapy will be for them. Oh, but it is!
I have become passionate about Sandtray and expressive therapy techniques as a way for clients of all ages to see their issues and address them. It works as a visual representation of their issue(s) whether it be a 65-year-old processing his life, 50-year-old processing the loss of a parent, a 33-year-old working toward reducing anxiety, or a teen dealing with self-esteem issues.
I had an adult client (who did not want to engage in play therapy) after four months of counseling, ask, “what do you do with those?” as he pointed to the shelves stocked with miniatures. I explained the process and encouraged him to create his own Sand tray.
He created his first Sand world using miniatures, structures, symbols, rocks, and other items that told his story, thoughts, and feelings. He saw, for the first time, the world he was living in as he processed his Sand world with me. The placement of miniatures in the sand tray had meaning as he continued to process his world. In the next session, he then wanted to do more. He said, “I like what I am learning about myself.” The client was then introduced to his family system by using a genogram with miniatures. He was able to learn about his family patterns. He used block structures to work on communication skills. Using buckets and ping-pong balls taught him how to relax, concentrate, and reduce his anxiety. He reported learning more through the “play” process than during months of traditional talk therapy.
Another use of play therapy techniques is art interventions. When I ask a teen or adult client to complete an art intervention, it amazes me how each one is unique, even when the intervention instructions are the same. Each client’s perspective, life experiences, and family systems are different, creating a different picture each time.
My favorite intervention is The Me Tree. This is where you can talk about a tree with roots, branches, a hole in the center, and leaves falling down. Clients share their perceptions of their roots (The roots are my favorite part. Roots help the tree to be grounded and stand up through trials), what they are reaching for in their future (branches), what they are hiding (hole in the tree), and what they need to let go of in their life (falling leaves).
Play therapy interventions make counseling fun, for me and the clients I serve. Nothing compares to watching my clients’ awareness of themselves grow through miniatures, sand tray, and art interventions. No need to think you are playing with toys or coloring, a deeper level of understanding about yourself and your world can be found with play and expressive art therapy.
Written By: Lisa Parsons, LPCC-S, NCC, RPT-S