Bubbles are SO FUN. A bit of magic, whimsy, and excitement all rolled into one. It also feels a bit like breaking the rules to blow bubbles inside BUT we can do almost anything in the play room, including blowing bubbles!
Oh, and they are super cheap too! Check out these ones HERE from Amazon. At only $0.17 per bubble they are SO affordable for Tele-Play, individual play therapy kits (probably for outside use during these COVID times), your general play room supplies bin, or treasure chests! These are the ones I order for trainings and it is truly magical to look out over a conference room into a sea of bubbles! Pro tip for bubbles and Tele-Play, don't blow them directly into the camera - your picture might get real blurry for a bit.
Okay so without further ado here are my top three favorite Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapy activities with bubbles:
Bubble Feelings Psychoeducation:
This activity is one of my favorites for starting out and learning about the experience of our feelings. In metaphor we discuss and notice how feelings can be like blowing bubbles. Some are big and some are tiny. Some come out fast, some come out slow, and some get stuck. Sometimes a lot of them come out all at the same time but sometimes it is just one. Other times feelings can get stuck together like one, two three, or more bubbles! Here I usually pause and give examples of feelings that might be stuck together. Some might even be confusing - like when you are happy but a bit sad at the same time!
Other ways feelings are like bubbles is that sometimes some stick around for a while (like the bubble that just floats in the air) OR some leave our bodies quite quickly (like the bubbles that drop immediately to the ground). And sometimes....feelings and bubbles POP! I like to pause to talk about all the ways that feelings can "pop" like crying, screaming, angry faces, having negative thoughts about ourselves, saying unkind words, being unsafe or out of control with their bodies, etc. You know, all the ways! And young people usually have some great ideas about what it means for their bubble to pop! You can also use this to process warning signs of when their bubble is just about to pop!
The other thing with feelings and bubbles...is that bubbles always pop! What we know about feelings, is that they come and go. They aren't permanent states and just because we might have one GIANT feeling bubble, it isn't going to stick around forever!
For some young people you can give an example or two and they will hop right in with ideas of how the bubbles you are blowing are like feelings. For other young people you might need to give a ton of examples and then reverse roles and have them be the "teacher". I love when young people come up with their own ideas to add to the list of metaphors that I usually suggest. You can also use this language, like having feelings "pop", to talk about moments of dysregulation in future sessions!
This one is pretty self explanatory, but here goes. One of the most important emotional regulation activities for young people, well anyone really, is deep breathing. If we want to get really technical when we are in a sympathetic nervous system state (flight/fight) usually associated with anxiety deep breathing lowers heart rate, stimulates the vagus nerve, and allows us to come back into a ventral vagal (ie more regulated) state. It is here that we are able to engage in our prefrontal cortex to access both the emotional and logical sides of our brain, which engages in more critical thinking and logical reasoning. Wheeww...it's just really important - okay? P.S. to regulate from a parasympathetic nervous system state we engage in a different kind of breathing.
Now I don't know about you but the superpowers of deep breaths are some of the hardest skills to get young people to buy in to. Some young people have a hard time believing that something we are engaging in every second of the day can be used in an intentional way (slow long deep breaths with the exhale twice as long as the inhale) to help with regulation. Some will say it "didn't work". When I ask for a demonstration sometimes it looks like a fast shallow inhale with a quick burst of air to empty the lungs, all within a second or two. Yes, this absolutely would not have helped with nervous system regulation. From here we can talk about the body, become detectives, and get clear about exactly WHAT kind of breathing leads to a calmer more regulated state.
I will also use a metaphor about practice being KEY. We definitely do not show up after one dance lesson for the recital or one hockey practice for the big game. Practice really does make perfect.
Okay, so the key to practice is to make it exciting and engaging. Enter bubbles. I like to explain that we want to "extend the exhale" to past when the bubbles may all be blown. You can make up SO many fun games such as who can blow the most bubbles, the biggest bubble, or breathe for the longest exhale. The great news is these are so fantastic to send home for extra practice! I also will let young people know that their parents are in charge of where they practice - outside, in the bathroom, anywhere in the house!
Popping Maladaptive or Irrational Thoughts:
This activity I usually use as an activity after I have engaged in playful psychoeducation about the cognitive triangle and engaged in identifying and shifting maladaptive thoughts and creating rational alternative thoughts. When all of this has happened this play therapy activity can help bring it all together!
First we want to focus on those BIG bubbles. For the next step you can do this spontaneously OR pull from an art activity or brainstorming sheet. For each bubble identify a maladpative or irrational thought. Using any move the young person would like - pop that bubble! Maybe it is a karate chop? A simple finger poke? Death by a sword? Anything is fine!
After the young person pops the bubble they can either say a rational alternative thought as a replacement, a calming self statement, or identify a regulating behavior they can engage in when having that thought.
And there you have it - three ways to use bubbles in play therapy!! What other ways do you incorporate bubbles into your practice with young people? Drop a comment below!
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I'm Ann Meehan, an LPCC, RPT-S, and EMDR Consultant. I help other therapists grow in their passions as play therapists, trauma therapists,and child and adolescent therapists.