Freddie Krueger. Chuckie. Jason.
Parents and children alike ask me, “Why do you have those in here?”
I respond, “Why do you think I have those in here?”
Gary Yorke, PhD, recommended 1 or more of the play therapy dolls as good resources for the playroom. I was skeptical but bought 3. Deciding to assess the use of them for myself, I have determined there are multiple uses for the creepy therapy toys.
To communicate anger
A child may use the doll to let a therapist/school counselor/teacher/parent know he is angry with the adult for any reason by shaking the doll at the adult.
The creepy doll may be thrown across the room or beaten up to express anger at any bad experiences or people.
To communicate that a person has scared the child
A child who has been traumatized may ventilate that fear by using 1 or more of the dolls. Sometimes that fear may come from watching scary movies; in that case, I guide care takers in being more selective in visual experiences.
To express identification with, ventilate about, or gain control over one’s own creepiness
Children on the Autism Spectrum or with physical differences may use the dolls to process how they are treated by peers on the school playground.
To express identification with the oppositional and defiant nature of the dolls
A child who presents with defiance, for whatever reason, may identify with the dolls and act out that oppositional stance.
To gain control of one’s anxieties and unrealistic fears
Some children ask me to hide the dolls as they are afraid of the dolls. I may do so in a very early session but soon have the child take responsibility for the fear and find a way to cope with the creepy dolls themselves. They may hide the dolls, lock them up with my play chain, or throw them away in a pretend garbage can. Sometimes they add guards around the dolls to provide extra security. Or, we may dress up as a superhero and find the dolls together. This frequently leads to better coping at home.
To communicate low self-esteem, worthlessness, guilt
Play using the dolls may involve being bad and in trouble. I work to validate the feelings in the play and then acknowledge the creepy doll’s life experiences, such as mistreated, hurt, surviving difficult times, trying to protect himself.
To express whatever the child needs to vent about
Children will use the dolls or avoid them to communicate thoughts and feelings about situations that I may never fully understand. Being client-centered and open to their experiences is the key.
The professional benefits from an individual and family assessment of the client and knowledge of the child’s experience to fully understand and best respond to the child’s play. On the other hand, being in the moment with the child and aware of the therapists’ own emotional responses to the client is often enough to further assess, validate, encourage an adaptive response by the child.
“Why do you have those in here?”
Therapist’s response, “Please tell me!”
Donna is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Registered Play Therapist/Supervisor in private practice, in Savannah, GA. Visit her website: http://www.donnahammontree.com/