Friday, October 30, 2015

Not Just Child's Play

Play therapy is a viable treatment modality for working with children, as it utilitizes their "words" (i.e., toys) in their "language" (i.e., play). For many children, talk therapy is not enough to access inner conflicts and help create behavioral change and relieve emotional stuckness. Play therapy uses the dynamic of play to help children develop social skills, address growth and development issues, aid in emotions management and to resolve trauma. 

The Power of Play 

Play therapists will offer many tools to youngsters to explore their emotions and experiences. From story telling and role play to using puppets, sand trays and art mediums, children are allowed to choose those activities that best allow them to express their internal realities. Play therapists may interpret and reflect back the material presented by a child, based on their training and data collected about the meanings behind much of play's symbolism to children. Having a safe space to feel in control of play activities and to play at their own pace can provide young clients with a sense of empowerment and control of their own choices. Play therapy's flexibility allows adaptation to the developmental and emotional stages of each child. Organizations like the Association for Play Therapy (APT) are helpful resources for information and referrals to play therapists in your area. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Hiding Our True Selves

As Halloween approaches, the stores are full of spooky decorations, pumpkins for carving, and costumes for adults and children, even pets. Rows of masks crowd shelves overflowing with orange plastic Jack 0'lanterns and bags of candy. Masks of former Presidents, movie stars, scary clowns, devilish ghouls. For most consumers, these masks will be worn for one day, then discarded. But many of us wear masks of a different type every day of the year.

Take Off the Mask 

Whether we present a confident facade during a job interview or a stern countenance when reprimanding our children, we sometimes show the world what we want it to see, rather than who we truly are in that moment. Certainly, adopting a certain persona can help us deal with a stressful situation or allow us to feel more in control when we are feeling uncertain. But these adopted roles can also prevent genuine connection. Only when we are authentic can others respond to our true selves and messages. We can only know others when they allow us to see their authentic reactions and uncensored responses. Connecting with one another takes the courage to be real, to risk shedding the masks and allowing our real selves to see the light. Let's leave the masks for those singular days of make believe, and treat ourselves to the opportunity to meet each other in genuineness and truth. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Why so SAD?

Tearfulness. Apathy. Fatigue. Negative thinking and anxiety. Most people are familiar with the behavioral and emotional presentations of depression. But Mood Disorder with Seasonal Pattern Specifier (previously known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)), can be overlooked or misdiagnosed precisely due to its hallmark--a connection to the change of seasons.

Season of Sadness

Fall is many people's favorite season. The cooler air, radiant colors, and cozy sweaters bring joy and peace to fall fanatics. But the dawning of autumn, and the end of summer's longer, light-filled days, can bring about a drop in mood, energy and affect. Most commonly experienced between summer and fall, Mood Disorder with Seasohal Pattern Specifier occurs less often as a result of different seasonal shifts. A trained medical professional or therapist can help clients discern the difference between a situational stressor and depressive symptoms that recur every year at the same time due to seasonal changes. Treatment may include a combination of short-term medication and therapy to develop skills to increase awareness of impending symptoms and develop a plan for mitigating the effects of adapting to the new season. Just because depressive symptoms can blow into our lives like the fall leaves carried by a strong wind, don't assume you are consigned to emotional challenges for the next four months. A proactive plan can help keep your mood level and your energy stores high, so you can function at your best through every season of the year. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Stories of Our Lives

We all have stories to tell. And when it comes to stories about ourselves, many people don't recognize that those tales aren't necessarily factual. Rather, perspective, magical thinking, flawed memory, subconscious scripts, all influence how we see ourselves and experience our lives. For example, in families members are often unconsciously assigned to "roles": who believes they are the "cute" one, the "smart" one, or the "troublemaker"? I've had clients describe themselves as "perpetual failures," "never going to amount to much", or "a committed rescuer." These stories, at one time, served a purpose. Perhaps they helped us make sense of a bizarre family system, provided a sense of protection, or allowed others to "dictate" who we were and how we behaved that best worked for them. But these identities are far from based in absolute truth. And most of them need to be re-written if we are to fully flourish as human beings.

Re-Telling Your Story

I encourage clients to get a photo of themselves from when they were young, preferably just beginning school, and to display the photo somewhere they will see it daily. I ask clients to consider that child, filled with possibilities and largely stilled unformed, and rewrite a description of that child from a place of objectivity, openness and compassion, almost as if they were talking about someone else.  Invariably, people describe their young selves using mostly positive phrasing--"you are fearless and funny", "you are kind and love to give hugs and play with your pets." Clients reframe their childhood selves as "curious and big hearted and interesting" and as "loved and loving." With these new "stories" in mind, I ask clients to look at their photo several times a day, letting them allow the new script to sink into their sense of  themselves, to anchor itself into their conscious understanding of who they are. Our stories can spring us forward or hold us back. With a more expansive, comprehensive vision of who we were, we can embrace who we are with affirmation and true esteem.