When you have worked with kids for more than a minute or two, and especially when you are starting as a child therapist or gaining a specialty with Play Therapy, there are common myths that you tend to bump up against, and maybe even start to believe.
You might hear them from other co-workers, therapists who work with adults, OR these might be some of the sticking points that leave you on the edge of working with children. I wanted to dive into dispelling these 5 myths that I hear so often and get real about what it is like to work with kids.
You Have to Have All The Perfect Toys
One of the most frequent questions I am asked by new Play Therapists is “what toys do I need”? This is often accompanied by some anxiety and to be honest a bit of imposter syndrome. Like, I’m not a “real” Play Therapist unless I have everything just right.
Now, helping to support new Play Therapists set up their space is really my jam. I talk HERE about how to trust the resilience of children to use their imaginations to create what they need (with whatever toys you have on hand) to share their stories, process through the pain, and engage in healing.
For those of you that really want to know - the University of North Texas has an excellent comprehensive list for Child Centered Play Therapists HERE, (but make sure to let theory lead the way). When you look at the end of the article with the “comprehensive Play Room” recommendations it can get a bit overwhelming. I talk about the “Portable Playroom” HERE, that is a little more compact but hits all the areas.
But…. the secret? There is no perfect toy. No perfect setup. No perfect combination. The toys have limits within your ability to hold the therapeutic space.
As a matter of fact, therapists like Lisa Dion (here and here) argue that you are the most important toy in the play room. It is not the perfect shiny new toy or the most expensive tools that make the difference - it’s you, holding space for the child to be themselves.
You Have to Know All About “Kid Stuff”
When I first started working with younger children I was thrown from a position contracting within a high school into working with elementary school kids, due to grant funding that fell through. When I shared with one of my supervisors that I was making this transition I clearly remember the conversation as I was processing what it meant for my professional development and identity to make this shift.
“I don’t even know anything about kid stuff” I remember sharing with her in my distress and anxiety over just how in the heck I was going to connect with Kindergarten students who were interested in Disney movies, video games, and pogs. Did kids even still play with pogs? I didn’t even know! (They didn’t.)
I was anxious of how I was going to connect, build rapport, and engage when I didn’t know the slightest bit about the latest toys, lingo, or technology.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am definitely not knocking any of you Star Wars, Frozen, Lego or Fortnight lovers! (I mean, who can resist singing Let it GOOOOO?). If you have the superpower to speak the language of Minecraft or Klingon to join with your clients, that is fantastic!
But, in a world where there are 118,109 video games and counting - you aren’t going to know it all. And you don’t have to .
Moment of truth? I STILL don’t know how to play Animal Crossing, what exactly a hatchimal is, or why on earth you arrive on an island on a bus. However I am kind of down with those big squishies.
The important part? Getting curious, asking questions, letting the client lead the way, and a little Google search here and there!
You Have to A Separate Playroom
Oh the places you’ll play! It kind of sounds like a Dr. Seuss book. In this training HERE I had the funnest time researching all the places that therapists played, gathering pictures, and pouring over text books.
In this book HERE Terry Kottman and Kristen Meany-Walen talk about playing in a corner of a hallway in a school setting. My first office was a teeny tiny space that housed a janitor's closet. I have played in the corner of conference rooms, out of a suitcase, and now exclusively virtual.
What do all of these spaces have in common? Meaningful therapeutic work was happening through the powers of play.
A giant Playroom is nice - AND I’ve never had one all to myself. In community mental health the Playroom was shared so if it was booked my office would double as a play space. In Private Practice I am only allocated one office so you get pretty crafty with how you set up your toys!
At the end of the day (or the beginning of the session) you let the relationship lead the way and whatever surrounds you melts away as you enter the world of playing house, princesses, zombies, or all out battle.
You Have to Work Nights and Weekends
I am a morning person. I am my best self as a therapist until about 4 or 5 and then I can hit a bit of an energy slump. I also (believe it or not) do not want to live at my office, although some of our younger clients really do think we live there. I value balance, family time, and self care that happens for me by not working nights and weekends. All of this makes me a better therapist.
When I first started out working with children I would have what I called “bookend days”. You know, those days where the mornings were full, the afternoons and evenings were full, but the middle of the day? Crickets. It was required to work several evenings per week in community mental health and I ended up feeling tired, worn out, and disconnected from my family. And worse yet? I was struggling to meet my numbers unless I added more evening clients.
When I transitioned to Private Practice I still had the same mindset until one day I thought (as most of my good ideas start with a "what if") - what if I didn’t.....work nights? What if I was able to leave the office at 5 or earlier?
And then...I did. I found that once I got clear on the specific needs of my schedule, set clear boundaries, and got really good at creating systems for my schedule - it all fell into place. My work hours are now 8-5 two days per week and 7-4 two days per week. It’s been that way for years and I have had no problems filling my spots - beginning, middle, and end. I don’t resent or dread working late, I have a clearer head, and I get to show up the way clients need.
If you are interested in more support around this check out this training HERE to help you get a schedule that works for you.
Kids Can’t Handle the Hard Stuff
Parents and other professionals often have ideas that we can’t share the hard stuff with kids because they “can’t handle it”. This often comes up with the hard topics such as being adopted, a parent’s suicide, parent incarceration, or a parent who struggles with alcoholism or chemical addiction.
The truth? Kids are like sponges. They soak in everything we say and everything we don’t. They have nervous systems that sync and communicate with their parents, teachers, siblings and peers. And the phone call parents may think is private? Kids tend to have eyes (and little ears) everywhere. If something is up - they are going to know about it.
And what's more confusing - if they don’t have an (age appropriate) honest answer for what they are sensing they will create one. Polyvagal Theory would say that “story follows state”. So, the child’s dysregulated nervous system is followed by the creation of a story about what is going on - they fill in the blanks. The child can create a narrative where they are at fault or have other distorted thinking patterns that likely aren't based in reality.
Sometimes we want to sugar coat things for children because in the moment it will make them feel better. And then we feel better. And then down the road….things explode.
So, how old is “old enough”? What are the consequences at a more mature age 16 of finding out they were adopted, their parent didn’t die in a car accident but committed suicide, or didn’t pass away but is actually incarcerated. What about the consequences of telling a child that their chemically addicted parent is “sick” leading to the child worried that their parent is contagious, will need surgery, and they will get sick too?
So.... back to how old is “old enough”. We can answer that question with whatever age the child is today. Right now. I am such a strong believer that an age appropriate and factual narrative can be created for all of the big tough, and traumatic things that are thrown at kids.
And there you have it! The top 5 myths I hear so often that we need to leave behind! Hopefully you now have the information you need to wave goodbye to these fallacies - for yourselves, your clients, and peers!
What other myths do you hear about working with children or Play Therapy? Leave a comment below!
Mornings can either make or break your entire day. There, I said it.
The you that hits snooze seven times, rolls out of bed, grabs a quick cup of coffee and bolts for the door *fingers crossed your sweater isn’t inside out* is in a completely different headspace for your first client than the you that wakes up with plenty of time to not only get your “have to” tasks done but intentionally prepare for the day.
If you are regularly showing up for your first client, frazzled with a half eaten granola bar on your desk, oooor you think you could use some fine tuning to your morning routine - check out my best tips below!
Elevate Your Morning Routine Tips:
Wake up at the same time each day
As odd as this sounds, a consistent wake time actually contributes to better quality of sleep. Significant differences between wake time each day “confuses your biological clock in just the same way — in fact, sleep doctors sometimes call this “social jet lag”” according to Dr. Ong. Waking up at the same time each day is also linked to improved alertness, less irritability, brighter mood, and better memory!
Stop the Snooze
Let’s cut to the chase - hitting the snooze button disrupts your REM sleep and prevents our bodies from getting restorative sleep according to Dr. Reena Mehra, M.D., M.S., Director of Sleep Disorders Research at Cleveland Clinic. Those 5-10 extra minutes of sleep can leave you feeling drowsy for the rest of the day! As much as our beds feel ahh-mazing, definitely not worth it for the energy it will suck out of your day!
Make your bed
Have you heard this commencement speech from Admiral William McRaven at the University of Texas at Austin? It’s under 20 minutes and SO GOOD. It’s actually what made me get super serious about making my bed every morning - and from personal experience I can tell you, it makes a difference. It’s not just me either! A survey from Sleep Brand Mattress found that 82% of people who made their bed felt they had a more productive day. Less than 2 minutes (okay - unless you have a million throw pillows then a little bit more) is definitely worth the return on investment.
Have clear intentions
If your brain has to make a million decisions your concentration, energy, and focus tanks. You need to get clear and specific on what needs to be completed - both realistically (hello brushing teeth!) and for mental, social, and physical health. Are you more regulated and focused if you meditated or exercised before you started your day? What about sitting down at an actual table with breakfast vs. grabbing a granola bar (okay maybe just a coffee) to go?
A good morning starts with a good night
Really think about what you can do the night before to make things seamless in the morning. Is it packing a lunch ahead of time, prepping the coffee on autostart (my personal favorite), or picking out your outfit for the day. Let your evening self be kind to your morning self.
Do the exact same thing every single morning. Find a routine, rhythm, or combination that works for you and repeat, repeat, repeat. When our brains know what to expect we battle one of the biggest threats to our nervous system - the unknown. When we are able to help our brains and bodies know exactly what to expect, every day we decrease the anxiety and distress that most often comes up in transitions where we need to make decisions about “what next”.
Interested in what other successful people, like President Obama or Steve Jobs, do during their morning routines? Check out these articles here and here!
Aaaand if you say you're not a morning person? Well...everyone has their own version of “morning”. That little slice of time between when you wake up and when you start your work day. And that my friends is where the gold happens!
Looking to level up your mornings and create a more intentional morning routine? Join me in this mini 5 part email course to Elevate Your Morning Routine, getting you to ideal mornings HERE!
Now, what the heck is an email course? I’m glad you asked! I’ll be sending you several emails over the course of the week to guide you through your Elevate Your Morning Routine workbook with simple, easy to digest steps! All of the emails are packed with the essentials that you need to know and of course a giant boost of support. Come join me HERE!
And if you are in the mood drop a comment below about your "must have" in your morning routine!
Spoiler alert – 92% of people don’t keep a New Year’s Resolution. Most don’t last even one month.
Many of these resolutions can be deeply rooted in the belief that we aren’t enough or are somehow broken. And to this I truly believe (in my practice and in life) that all behavior is purposeful, to meet a need, an attempt to regulate, and is an adaptation to what life throws at us.
Wherever you are, right now, in your practice is a result of doing the best you can with what you have.
And, it doesn’t mean we have to stay here.
When I set intentions or goals for my year (check out my full process HERE) one of the most important parts is to have gratitude for what you have accomplished over the last year, reflect on what didn’t feel exactly great, and really be intentional for how you want to show up over the next year. For your clients. For your business. For yourself.
Set a word of the year
I always find that when I can focus on one word for how I want to show up for the year. This one is about how you want to feel and the essence of who you want to show up as. It also keeps me centered to my intentions for the year. I also like to pick a photo or a visual to go along with the word! Check out more on this one HERE!
My word for this year? Soar.
When researching this word I found that Dr. Isler said it best “ I want to soar: I want to learn to trust the wind around me to carry me to where I need to be. I want to soar: spending time taking in my surroundings without the constant need to be doing something. I want to soar: to be ok with life outside of what I can see, control and comprehend.” Ahh – so good!
Get Clear on your goals
Wouldn’t it be cool if I…. was a Play Therapist, a supervisor, worked a 4 day week, didn't work late nights, trained in EMDR, was an EMDR Consultant, had sweet colored files, invested in new toys, made a blog…and the list could go on.
My favorite question, hands down, to ask myself at the beginning of the year is “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” and fill in the blanks. This question allows you get to past your blocking beliefs about what your practice “should” look like and opens the doors to the possibilities of what it could be like.
All of the above? Yup. These have been on my list at one point or another, and because of this clarity I was able to grow in amazing ways. Oh, and the colored files? Hot pink, light blue, and dark blue. Best. Investment. Ever.
When we write goals for clients for insurance companies *insert groan here* they need to be concrete and measurable. I think they are on to something here in that if you don’t call your shot, the specific thing you want to achieve, you are going to miss it every time.
What are the specific results you would like to get and what are the exact mini steps along the way?
Write it down
A notebook, with a printout, or on the back of a receipt – hand write your goals! Research shows that clearly writing goals can make you up to 1.4x more likely to achieve them. There is definitely something different about putting a pen/marker/crayon to paper then just thinking about it.
I use the same notebook each year and it is so FUN to review my goals from last year and place the new ones beside it, one page over.
Need some more inspiration?
Now, here are some ideas to get you going into what the next year might hold for you!
Is there a system in your practice you want to introduce? Maybe it is getting on top of your paperwork and finding a way to get your notes done. It could be a more efficient system for intakes or a path to a more intentional intake session. Or maybe you want to develop some solid termination session rituals or add a new toy like a Meebie (the creator is from Minnesota by the way!) to your playroom.
Do you want to change the structure in your practice? This might mean more clients, less clients, not working nights and weekends, or working a 3 or 4 day work week.
Is there a skill set you want to improve? Maybe you want to get trained to work with a specific population like toddlers, trauma , Theraplay, or finally get your RPT! You could also think about what readings or texts you want to take in over the next year. (Please don’t ask me about my Amazon cart right now – I have lofty goals! Maybe these books will spill into 2022.)
Are you dreaming big? This might be the year you set your sights on opening up your own practice, starting out as a supervisor, moving jobs, or starting a training program.
No goal is too big or small. Seriously.
And if you don’t achieve any of the goals or intentions you set?
Guess what? You are still an amazing therapist! And, even if you move the needle on a couple of goals those small steps can have great impact in your practice and your ability to serve the clients you see.
I would LOVE to hear about your goals for this year! Drop a comment below and let’s get inspired!
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.