Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Child and Family Therapist
Incorporating Creativity, Expressive Arts, Mindfulness, Nature & Play
Creativity, Expressive Arts, and Play Therapy
Our children and teens do not currently get as many opportunities to be creative as in the past. This may be attributed to the increase of video games and other online entertainment, as well as families juggling extracurricular activities and academic expectations. Whatever the reason, our children thrive when there are opportunities for creativity and free play to express, explore and heal. Creative activities including expressive arts as well as play therapy are often integrated in our sessions.
"What is play therapy?" This is a question I am asked often! It may sound like I am "just playing" with kids, but there is more to it. The best way to explain it is that children under the age of 10 are not quite able to talk and sort through issues verbally as their brain hasn't yet fully developed for this. Instead a play therapist is trained in using the healing powers of play to communicate with and treat chidren. Puppets, doll house figures and other toys provide safe outlets for kids to experience and explore stressors, traumas and other concerns. And yes- we can even be playful and creative over a screen utilizing telehealth.
For older children and teens, play-based activities including expressive/creative arts can help them open up more comfortably. I often use sandtray therapy as an expressive modality for them to process traumatic and stressful events in a safer way. Since trauma and other negative memories are often stored in our right brain, having a right-brain based intervention like sandtray therapy works to help calm, regulate and safely process difficult experiences.
Children and adolescents today face many stressors that can be challenging and sometimes overwhelming for them. Expressive and creative arts therapies may include art techniques, movement, writing and even music. They can be so helpful for these issues- we can even do some of them within family therapy so parents / caregivers can share in this fun yet therapeutic experience!
Mindfulness and Nature
Another way to assist children and teens with these stressors and challenges is to incorporate a practice of mindfulness, which means more about "being" than "doing". (This is great for adults too! Especially parents and caregivers.) We live in a world that is all too often loud, noisy and at times choatic filled with all kinds of deadlines and expectations. Taking the time to be still and to notice what is going on with ourselves is very powerful. And yes, even busy children need time to be still. We will often begin and end sessions with a period of mindfulness to assist the transition from the outside world to our therapy space, as I want this to be a safe space of sanctuary for optimal growth and healing.
I also utilize nature in my practice! There is a growing amount of research regarding the healing properties of nature- that together when added with the therapeutic powers of play can be a such a dynamic duo! This "double-dose of healing" is a growing modailty within our field, most often refered to as Ecotherapy or Nature Therapy. In my practice I incorporate both structured and nonstructured nature-based therapeutic activities with children, teens and their families- which I call "NaturePlay" as part of NaturePlay Therapy. I have found these are so often needed as children and and adolescents spend more and more time indoors with electronics and less time outside.
We are seeing depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns increase with so much of childhood occuring indoors. There is a growing recognition of this "Nature-Deficit Disorder" and research is supporting the healing power of nature more all the time. So I endeavor to bring NaturePlay to my clients when I can and work with therapeutically as well as encourage them to go outside and play in between sessions too! I call these Nature Adventures (sounds much better than "homework") and they are a part of the NaturePlay experience. Since movement is another treatment strategy that can help deal with stress, playing outside in nature is a win-win! Even during telehealth, I can have chlidren take me outside (with permission and safety precautions) via their screens and we can still do NaturePlay activities together. "NaturePlay is my Healing Way" is something I feel, say and do often.
In addition to combining the therapeutic benefits of play and nature, there are also times when children and teens can benefit from quiet and rest in nature as part of mindfulness practice. Nature lets us answer the call to be wild as well as the need to be mild.
Various art supplies can be used in creative and expressive art activities from paints and crayons to sand tray and items from nature. At times these may be integrated with play, especially by younger children. Various amount of structure are utilized for activities depending on the needs and age of the child or adolescent as a prescriptive and integrative therapeutic approach.
I have included a few pictures of my office space. Sometimes showing these pictures to a child before our first appointment can help them be a little more comfortable about this new experience. Once they are able to play with the toys, they often understand this is a special place for them.
To the right of the puppet theater is my nature/ creativity station.
There are many opportunities for dramatic play using the puppet theater and puppets, as well as costumes which are kept behind the puppet theater.
I incorporate nature inside by bringing nature items in that clients can use to make nature mandalas, sandalas, explore loos parts play and more.
I also have many games we can use- some are regular games like Candyland or Sorry that I incorporate a "counselor twist" with. There are also counseling games regarding specific issues like "My Two Homes", "Angry Monster" or "The Talking, Feeling Doing Game" to name a few.