The Chat Feature and Tele-Play!
“Type it in the chat”
Well...this is something I never dreamed would become a part of my therapy practice on the regular. I have continued to be amazed and inspired by ways that play therapy and Tele-Play combine into something that is uniquely all of its own.
I wanted to share some of the themes and interventions I am seeing with the chat feature in hopes that you will get curious about diving deeper beyond the video stream on your screen!
I have some older middle school clients and teens that don’t have the most secure environment to meet in. Sometimes there is something they want to say but are aware that others could be within hearing distance. Sometimes the chat feels safer, even just to kick off a detail about a topic that otherwise feels too private to even speak.
For other young people I see they aren’t quite sure HOW they want to say something. They will use the chat feature to communicate and “edit” what they want to say, read, re-read and then hit enter when it seems to be the closest to what they want to say to you and how they want to say it.
To express dysregulation
Kjsdflkjs lf dlkfa dklsdj;f kldsf lsdk f
Do you ever get multiple sentences like this in the chat? Sometimes it’s funny, but sometimes it can show up as something different.
Sometimes it is the way young people communicate through actions that they don’t like something that is being said. Or they are bored, anxious, or really any other form of dysregulation. You know, the way in office that they might yell, interrupt, or show you in some other way that they are dysregulated. It’s another way they communicate their inner state to us!
Testing limits and boundaries
Sometimes the chat feature is used to see where the limits are. What if I say something in the chat that I wouldn’t say out loud? What if a drop a POOP emoji? What about a gun? Is THAT allowed? How will you respond?
This last one is by far my favorite and one of the most amazing ways I have seen kids adapt to Tele-Play! Sometimes in response to a prompt, noticing statement or question there an emoji pops into the chat. Sometimes they invite you to respond in emoji. Sometimes you can co-tell stories and in the chat the play takes on a life of its own!
Chat Feature Intervention: Tell Me a Story
Here is one of the interventions I have enjoyed doing. It is similar to using story cubes, like I talk about in greater detail HERE! BUT instead of rolling the dice to identify the symbols in the story you can use the chat feature in the following ways:
There is not a lot of structure to this and it is incredibly flexible. If the therapist chooses the child could have an invitation to reject or “re-do” one of the emoji’s. You could choose to base it on some of the rules from the free printable HERE!
This one is really the quintessential “no supplies play therapy” intervention!
What have you noticed about the chat feature and Tele-Play? Have you developed any interventions? Drop a comment below!
PS if you are not sure how to get emoji’s - if you are in DoxyMe right click in the text areas of the chat and the top of the menu will say Emoji. When you click on that it opens up a beautiful array of emoji’s to choose from. OR you can hit the windows key (on a PC) and period at the same time and the box will pop up!
Tele-Play Therapy is still very much a reality for my practice, and we are nearing the year mark after making the shift.
I wanted to touch on something I included in my Play Therapy Kits HERE! In this post HERE I talked about the handouts I gave parents to orient them to the Play Therapy kits and included a FREE download as well as kit numbers and labels for the Play Therapy Folders.
I wanted to take some time to talk about the importance in Tele-Play of having a Play Therapy folder! I have reflected SO MUCH on the differences between in office therapy and Tele-Play, starting back to when I transitioned my practice from the Twin Cities to Duluth and especially in the pandemic.
One of the things I kept reflecting on is the sacredness of the containment of the therapy office. Toys are kept in this space that are only used for therapy and at the end of the session the child walks out, into the waiting room and back into their life.
I have been reflecting a lot on the containment that the Play Therapy office provides. Although when I oriented my families to Tele-Play Therapy we discussed the importance of containment for art work, one can never really be sure what happens after we wave goodbye! I know projects that were meant to be done over a series of sessions can get misplaced or lost. It happens!
I also know that in the office there can be some self consciousness, anxiety, or distress of not wanting to share a project or drawing with a parent. When that presents in Tele-Play it can lead to restricted play or processing as it doesn’t feel safe, and to be honest sometimes it isn’t safe. OR sometimes, for whatever the reason, they just want to leave it behind. In the office they trust that you will keep it safe.
But, what about when you don’t have that physical ability to contain the art after they leave the appointment?
The best way I came up with to recreate this dynamic for children was the Play Therapy folder. Each child I see has a folder they can write their name on and keep to store art projects, drawings, or materials. It stays in the kit to minimize anything getting lost or put somewhere “special”, that we never can remember where it was!
We incorporate this choice into our closing ritual. An invitation to keep the art, share the art, destroy the art, or put it in their folder. Whatever feels right to them.
Also because it is in the folder it is not easily accessible and out for parents, siblings, friends, or whoever to see. While it is not 100% private it has definitely been a helpful and essential tool in my practice.
The stickers I used to label the personal Play Therapy folders (above) are available as a free download HERE! The labels were printed on Avery 15264 Labels (3 1/3'' x 4'') BUT you can also print on paper and just tape onto folders too!
Have you been using Play Therapy folders in your Tele-Play practice? Have you found other ways to create containment? Drop a comment below!
Representation is important. It’s more than important, it is essential in your Playroom.
You need to ensure that there are multiple figures that represent each of your clients in your Playroom. When they enter your space they need to see not just one but multiple characters that they could use to reflect their experiences, should they want or need to!
I wanted to round up my top 14 multicultural miniatures that I either have for my Playroom or have stumbled across in my search for toys (like in these kits HERE) that I think would be a fantastic addition to every Playroom.
I would also use this as an invitation for you to take stock of your playroom and assess how clients of color will feel as they enter your space. What would they see, not see, or wish they had?
These are crucial questions to be asking and continue to ask ourselves as Play Therapists.
So after you do that, it’s time to get inspired!
Here is my list of my Top 14 Favorite Multicultural Minis:
The “Mega Set” – This is the largest family set I have found! It includes 4 family sets (mother, father, 4 children, grandmother, grandfather) for a total of 32 figures!
Sunny Doll Family - This amazingly sweet wooden doll set comes from Tender Leaf Toys and have an individual bendy doll HERE!
The Modern “Mega Set” – This set includes 4 family sets (mother, father, son, daughter, baby) and is a little more spendy, but it is a much more modern family representation with outfits and clothes. OH – and it’s bendy! Both “Mega Sets” include a diverse representation of hair as well!
Differing Abilities – This set includes 5 miniatures (5 inch) with different disabilities!
Around The World – This set includes 8 5 inch miniatures from different countries wearing more traditional dress.
I purchased a large set of multicultural family peg dolls from LittleNeighbors on Etsy. I LOVE them! Buuut she is taking a break from selling right now. She always updates when her collections will be back and you can follow her on instagram at @littleneighbors for updates! (These are the miniatures in the picture up top!)
I found these other listings from Elm and Otter, JustAddImaginationCo (16 miniatures for $14.00 is a steal!), and MyBigWorldPlayscapes, that are beautiful as well. OR try to make some on your own with these unfinished dolls HERE!
Toob Babies – these babies come in multi ethnicities with different and fun poses! They are larger and have much more detail than the mini-babies below
Mini-Babies- this set includes 72 pieces of 1 inch miniatures. There are three ethnicities of babies, and although you likely don’t need ALL these babies they are at such a low price that you can afford to share with your Play Therapy besties! I got my first one for my Sand Tray from a baby shower and my clients LOVE it!
Ok..now that you have looked at them they do look a little creepy - BUT my young people LOVE them and because of their size (and maybe lack of clothes, or maybe something else) these are so great for vulnerability play.
Community Helpers and Professionals
Constructive Playthings – this set includes 8 diverse miniatures (3 inches) with differing jobs!
Constructive Playthings Wooden Set- Constructive Playthings has an additional set of wooden community helpers with differing jobs and abilities.
Little Professionals – This set includes 15 wooden painted miniatures (3 inches) with differing careers. They are a bit more affordable but are not 3D figures like the others.
Fairy Toob - This is one of the more expensive TOOBs BUT it is so wonderful! There are multi ethnicities and hair types represented AND also male fairies!
So there you have it! My top 14 favorite diverse Play Therapy miniatures! What did I miss? What are your favorites? Drop a comment below!
For Black History Month I wanted to share this article HERE where Tanesha Forman talks about Black History Month being more than the several figures we learned about on rotation in school. Going beyond Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Malcolm X, and George Washington Carver.
AND although these figures are SO important and essential to learn about Tanesha views Black History Month as a way to “share the past in relation to the present and future”.
In her article Tanesha offers a school curriculum for exploring the past, present, and ways to create the future. This got me thinking about how often do we think about Black History Month with the lens of our own field of Play Therapy and therapy with children. Well....now is the time! Let’s dive into the past!
Cara Gruhala Of Seeds of Change Counseling and Consulting shared this post HERE on her Facebook Page about Black history in the fields of psychology, counseling, mental health, and play therapy. She honors five Black pioneers including the following groundbreaking Black professionals in the field of Psychology!
Check out her full post for more details and the full list of Black therapists, psychologists, and researchers she is spotlighting!
Now what about the present and future?
I’m glad you asked! This is where I got really excited this Black History Month. I was inspired by this post HERE from Kadesha Adelakun of The Journey Counseling Services. Her post detailed 28 ways to celebrate Black History Month.
It made me stop and think about the amazing Black Play Therapists that are making history right now. I wanted to honor four Black Play Therapists who are the present and future!
Kadesha Adelakun in addition to being a Play Therapist also trains on topics of Play Therapy and Social Justice and has the The Journey of Cultural and Racial Diversity in Play Therapy Facebook group and if you are not a member you need to be - it is such a valuable resource!
Sabra Starnes is another Play Therapist that has amazing trainings on a wide array of topics for all things Play Therapy (check them out HERE!). She also has a Play Therapy book and Sand Tray Prompt Cards!
Althea Simpson is a Play Therapist who owns Unicorn Life Training. She not only puts on trainings about Play Therapy but has created the Black Play Therapy Symposium. She also has the Chronicles of a Play Therapist Podcast!
Carmen Jimenez-Pride is a Play Therapist who not only trains but and also developed the Diversity in Play Therapy Summit! She also has a number of books and Play Therapy materials you will want to check out HERE!
This is nowhere near a comprehensive list of the Black Play Therapists, psychologists, professors, researchers and trainers that are making such a difference in educating the Play Therapy community now and in the future.
Tanesha's article also talks about taking "an active approach during and beyond Black History Month", which is a wonderful and essential mindset shift to have. So with an active approach in mind I reflected on the list that Kadesha shared on to the 28 ways to celebrate Black History Month. I would encourage you to look at that list and choose one or more ways that you will intentionally and actively celebrate this month.
If supporting Black owned business is part of how you are celebrating Black History Month please consider supporting one of these excellent therapists and their businesses above!
As therapists we are holding a nation whose mental health is worse than it has been at any point in the last 20 years. And, at the same time trying to hold our own mental health and the mental health and wellness of our family.
When reading this article HERE by Forbes, as a therapist, I felt so seen.
It speaks to the full caseloads of therapists (even pre-pandemic) which are swelling over at this point. In my own community finding the support for a child to see a therapist with a specific set of skills like Play Therapy or EMDR can be a daunting task and usually lands a child on a waitlist. A waitlist for a child and family that need services now.
And our existing clients and caseloads? In my years of practice I have never experienced collective environmental stress that this pandemic has brought on. I see how stressed out young people are, how much they want to see their friends and go to their activities, and the back and forth of in person, distance, and hybrid learning models. Ugh.
Then there are the parents. The adults in these young people's lives that are trying to hold it all together, work a job (that may be significantly different and distanced), be a teacher, and still find time to try to take care of themselves. And if dinner is on the table? Massive success.
We are holding them too. Helping them learn skills and tools to hold the mental health of their children in a time that nobody asked for and certainly did not prepare for.
Oh, and this thing I thought was going to last for a couple weeks, maybe a month tops, well...we are entering into our 11th month. Eleven. Long. Months. And an end date? Uncertain.
So in all of this it is essential, not just for our own needs, but the needs of our clients that you are assessing yourself for this thing called burnout and getting a plan - either way. A plan to stay thriving and functioning OR a plan to regulate and make your way out of that burnt out space.
According to this article HERE by Simple Practice if you check any of the boxes below you are likely somewhere between slightly singed and full into burn out mode:
Now, what does this look like in real life? Coming to session in a rush or late, feeling distracted or daydreaming during the session (hello grocery list!), the felt sense of not being present, dreading starting your day, being behind on notes, not wanting to wake up in the morning, and the list goes on.
So how did we get here?
Well first off, we are in a pandemic. Deb Dana writes HERE that our nervous system is constantly being taken out of ventral vagal state due to the indefinite and unpredictable nature of the pandemic, which sends cues of danger to our nervous system. Living constantly in this state is exhausting to our brains and bodies.
And then there is learning how to do our jobs drastically differently - whether that is Tele-Play, developing safe sanitizing and play procedures, or a combination of both. Oh, yea, and if you are a parent, guardian, or caregiver there is a high likelihood you have had to learn how to be a teacher. OR switch your schedule for two weeks to be all at home if you or one of your family members was exposed to COVID.
Yea, all of those things are a giant piece to this puzzle.
Some other key factors for burnout can be difficulty holding professional boundaries, overscheduling, not engaging in self care, taking on too many clients, or lack of professional support.
So….what next? Below are the most essential ways that I am active in battling burnout.
Redefine self care
Self care can look like so many things. While bubble baths, meditation, and getting a massage can be absolutely wonderful ways for self care, I have a broader definition that includes any activity that decreases overall stress and improves mental, physical, environmental and relational wellness.
SO for some self care could look like reaching out to a friend, but for others it might be putting up intentional boundaries in relationships. It could look like making sure your dishes are done at night or your notes done on time. It can look like creating a budget or making sure you exercise. All of these things count as self care too.
Check out the World Health Organization’s definition HERE.
Schedule self care
Like, sit down and schedule it on your calendar at the beginning of your week. If you are not intentional it will never happen. What is the top thing that is giving you stress and how you can be intentional in moving the needle and making progress? What are one or two things that will help fill your cup up and give you energy for the week?
That’s your self care list.
Maybe it is the backlog of emails you have or reports to write. Maybe it is making space to have coffee with a friend. It can even be finally starting that book that has been sitting on your night stand, or Gretchen Rubin’s favorite - organize a closet!
Once you have this list literally sit down and schedule when you will do this task, this thing that you know is important for you. My preference? In writing - but electronically will do just fine too!
The other thing for scheduling is balance - if you put all the self care things on your plate week one you might overload your system. Start with one or two things to move the needle on a stressor and one thing to fill your cup and assess from there!
Develop Great Systems and Schedules
Those things from the last point, you know, the ones that cause you the most stress - these are the things we need to operationalize and create systems for.
This is why I have a solid morning routine. You can grab this free course HERE to get on the path to elevate your morning routine.
Other areas in my practice that were leading to burnout? Late night schedules, feeling overwhelmed with paperwork, and trying to balance it all. This is the reason behind all the systems I have developed in my practice around note taking, keeping up on documentation, keeping scheduling boundaries, and all the other little things that are on auto-pilot now that were a huge source of stress in the past.
If documentation is something you struggle with, take this free course HERE for the roadmap to faster progress notes. Need more? Check out my 5 Minute Note course! Take this assessment HERE to see how satisfied you are with your schedule. Check out this resource HERE to help you get your ideal schedule.
These systems have been the foundation and bedrock of de-stressing in my practice. I encourage you to figure out how to develop your own routines for your biggest stressors!
The “Three Big Things”
The three things that I think have the most impact on mental wellness and I talk with all of my clients about the very first session? Good sleep, eating foods that feel good to your body, and moving your body. These three things are essential, every day, for mental wellness!
Get into a great consult group
One of the things about being in private practice is that there sometimes aren’t peer lead consult groups. This can also happen at an agency where you have a specialty like Play Therapy or EMDR that nobody else has. AND sometimes if you are in a supervision role or are a licensed and more senior member of your group or agency you are in charge of leading groups.
One of the best things I did in 2020 is join two peer lead consult groups where others that had more experience or different experiences than me were present. Having a group of peers where you can talk about cases, stressors, and stuck points is absolutely essential. You get that validation when times are tough and a celebration at those miracle moments in therapy!
Regulate during sessions
Keeping regulated and holding space for clients (who are sometimes very dysregulated) is hard. Doing it over telehealth can be harder. It is so important to be intentional about how to stay regulated and connected to self during these sessions.
This might mean having a grounding object near you. I have a rock from Lake Superior that I can touch and ground myself with if I feel like I need to be in a more centered place. I also have a weighted lap blanket I love. This could also be remembering to breathe during a session and being mindful of your pace of breath or having a drink of water.
Regulate between sessions
Okay - you get the theme of regulation! AND it is so important I wanted to put it on here twice. Between clients check in with your body and see what you need. Bathroom break? To stretch? A quick snack? A visual resetting exercise? All of the above? Check in with yourself often to see what you need.
This one is a biggie! Time blocking means creating intentional chunks of time to do a specific task and ditch the multitasking. As therapists it is easy to time block out our client sessions. But what about the time in between? Get intentional. If you try to write your note, check your email, and see who that voicemail is from you will likely have 3 half done tasks.
And again schedule it in. I sound like a broken record but the key to all of this is intentionality.
Close your email tabs and only check email during the times you have set aside for collaboration. Sometimes things that FEEL like an emergency could wait for the end of the day. And to be honest if it is a real emergency than 911, a crisis line, or the hospital is the appropriate system to handle the emergency.
Schedule your collaboration calls and paperwork time within your schedule to make sure you can be present and focus on the thing that is in front of you.
Learn something new
Okay - hear me out on this one. I know that in this world the last thing you feel like you have energy for is to learn something new. You are barely surviving right now.
AND the therapists I talk to and work with feel more energized and ready to go into sessions after they have learned something new and amazing during a training. One of the gifts of the pandemic also happens to be so many online trainings and increased accessibility to things that you previously might have to fly across the country to take.
Learning something new doesn’t only mean trainings - take in a podcast, read an article, or watch a YouTube Video. Need inspiration? Start HERE for my favorite blogs and podcasts and HERE for trainings that might interest you.
Organized your physical space
I am a huge believer that our physical space we keep is representative of our internal state. AND clutter can actually cause stress. The reverse is also true that if you are in a decluttered environment it can lower stress and increase productivity.
Seeing your physical space in your office as prime real estate is a must. What are the things that are essential to be on your desk that need your attention now and where can you store things that aren’t necessary away or clean them up.
For me post-its are life and how everything comes together. I am in a completely different mental state when I have a zillion post its all over my desk than when everything is cleaned up and in its place.
Also, your computer also becomes your physical space too so I definitely notice I feel more regulated when I only have the necessary tabs open. Confession time - my computer has exactly 18 tabs open as I write this.
We just addressed your physical space - what about your mental space? What rituals do you have to leave work at work? Maybe it is shutting your computer and logging off at a certain time. It might be a mental exercise to leave your workday behind. It could be a journaling exercise, a mantra, or really anything that helps separate your work day from your home life. If you don’t have a commute home this is essential to create a ritual around ending your day.
Ask for help
We can’t do this alone. Help may be getting someone to sit with your kids during virtual learning for a couple of hours. Help may be asking a coworker to be an accountability partner for getting on top of paperwork. Help may be getting your own therapist to hold space for you in the way you hold space for others.
Think of the top 3 stressors in your practice. THESE are the areas you want to develop systems around. These systems and habits will help you decrease the unnecessary and extra stress that can lead to burnout. In my practice it was my notes, my schedule, and paperwork (how it was stored, when it was due, etc.).
Are all of these going to happen seamlessly at the same time? No. The secret is doing the best you can with what you have and giving yourself grace.
Want to learn more resources to battle burnout?
What are your favorite battling burnout tips? Drop them in the comments below?
I'm Ann Meehan, an LPCC,