Okay...well what we are really talking about is regulating the nervous system to get back to a ventral vagal state and out of our fight/flight response (sympathetic nervous system) or a shutdown state (parasympathetic nervous system) in a way where nobody knows we are trying to regulate our nervous system state.
Wheew. That is a mouthful and usually a bit more than our young people can digest in one sitting. So - covert calming is a little easier way to describe the activities and strategies we might use to get back to a state we feel in control of our emotions and thoughts and connected to ourselves that doesn’t draw attention to the fact we are trying to calm.
BUT if that other stuff is totally your jam and you want to dive in deeper - that is all part of Dr. Stephen Porges’s Polyvagal Theory. I like to call Deb Dana the “translator” of the Polyvagal Theory from super deep and dense neuroscience to still heavily grounded in neuroscience but in a way that clinicians (as opposed to researchers) can understand and easily apply to client work. Her books like this one HERE is definitely my favorite.
If you just want to dip your toe in check out this overview by Justin Sunseri HERE. He also has the Stuck Not Broken podcast which is absolutely fantastic.
Okay, now back to covert calming.
Calming skills and regulation skills are...complicated. At the end of the day I believe nearly 100% of the work we do with young people is to help them regulate their nervous system state. This can be done So. Many. Ways.
Some theories like Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapy have regulation skills teaching as a core part of the theory. Other theories like Child Centered Play Therapy help the child regulate their nervous system in other ways, such as holding safe space and the relationship as the guiding factor.
THEN there are those young people you work with that you could teach one zillion skills to and they refuse to use them. No thanks. Not interested. Deep breathing doesn’t work.
OR there are the young people where you teach a zillion skills to and they find something completely and totally different to use to regulate. They might say something like “oh ya, those don’t work, I just do this AMAZING thing instead”. Usually with a straight face and a nonchalant voice. And then you burst out with excitement and your happy dance because young people are just so darn resilient!
So, having said that not all kids need a tool box of skills you teach them to regulate outside of your office, but some do! For those kids one of the biggest barriers I have found to using skills are embarrassment and shame.
For those kids I usually talk about “covert calming”. We get really curious and brainstorm what sorts of things they can do at their desk, in the halls, at dance practice, cub scouts (you get the picture) to regulate where nobody on the outside could tell they are doing it.
Here are some of the ways I have found that work with young people:
Deep breaths are my favorite way to teach regulating the nervous system. There are so many cool ways and games that you can use to teach deep breathing! AND the best thing about it is slowed heart rate actually changes your nervous system state because it signals to the body that the threat is gone.
I always tell my clients that the cool news about deep breathing is everyone is doing it 24/7 so it definitely won’t be out of the norm if you, you know, continue to breathe. And because you have to you can yield it as a superpower.
I will often engage in deep breaths as I talk about this topic and then at the end ask the client if they knew I was intentionally deep breathing. We can then practice in session and guess when we are being intentional vs. not.
Going to the bathroom
Well...not actually going to the bathroom, unless you need to and in that case - listen to your body! For some young people this may not be an option due to anxiety about asking to leave a situation (like class, a friends bedroom, a movie, etc.).
BUT if they are able going to the bathroom and leaving the environment may make it easier to regulate. Sometimes being out of the environment will help their bodies begin to regulate easier. In the bathroom you can do things that you may have done anyway but just a little different. You can wash your hands with cold water in an attempt to calm. You can stop at the drinking fountain (if at school) to get a drink and some exercise/movement walking to and from the bathroom.
When we are in a flight response (typically associated with anxiety) sometimes just walking can help discharge some of that energy.
This one only requires minor movement and can be done nearly everywhere. With this one you (in your head) list out or engage in action for the following:
5 things you see
4 things you hear
3 things you touch (actually touching if possible)
2 things you smell (just noticing differences or smelling different things if possible)
1 thing you taste (can take a sip of something, put in gum, or just notice)
Even if all are not able to be achieved even using some of our senses can ground us in the here and now!
The Butterfly Hug* is something we often teach clients to help them soothe. If you are not familiar read more about it HERE! The downside to this is if a young person is tapping on their shoulders (like a self hug) their friends are sure to know about it!
I usually suggest going down to the knees under the desk OR alternating tapping toes softly or scrunching toes in the shoes. I also like to add a safety statement like “I am safe” where one word is said with each tap!
Any visualizations are great for covert calming. It is only limited by your imagination! Some of my favorites are visualizing a favorite memory, a calm peaceful place, something they look forward to or containment.
For containment I love to use a rocket ship metaphor where we are loading thoughts and feelings that don’t feel good for us in the moment into the rocket ship and blasting them off to outer space!
What are your favorite ways to teach clients to “covertly calm”? Drop your favorites in the comments below!
*The Butterfly Hug was developed for use within EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) by EMDR trained clinicians. I always like to give informed consent when I talk about the Butterfly Hug or Toe Tapping to clinicians who are not trained in EMDR to make sure they have some training in the mechanisms behind Bilateral Stimulation (BLS) and know the risks, which include (although very small) that a client could go into “reprocessing” with BLS and could become flooded or more anxious. Practicing in the office is essential.
“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 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 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 celebrate this month.
For me? I wanted to do more to support Black owned businesses, specifically Play Therapists. I also wanted to combine it with my love of training and spreading knowledge to other Play Therapists.
So obviously this came together in the form of a giveaway!
I am giving away the following courses (6 total) in support of Black Play Therapists and business owners - who I truly believe are making big waves in the present and for the future!
So now to the good stuff! The two courses I chose to highlight and give away are below!
Course: Promoting Social Justice: A Therapist’s Perspective
Trainer: Kadesha Adelakun, LCSW, RPT-S
Date/Time: February 20th, 9-10am Central.
Number of winners to be selected: 4
Course: Introduction to the World of Sandtray Play Therapy
Trainer: Sabra Starnes, LICSW,LCSW-C, RPT-S, M.Ed.
Date/Time: February 27th 9am - 12pm Central
Number of winners to be selected: 2
Because I only want to give away courses to those who will actually use them, please only enter if you are able to attend the following dates/times. If you're in, check out the instructions to enter below!
Although I really hope you win *fingers crossed* 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?
Just how important is your schedule?
Well…I’m glad you asked!
Most of us spend 20-40 hours per week at work. If you are full time that is around 2,000 ish hours per year. And if you have a 40 year career that totals up to 80,000 hours. Eighty. Thousand. Hours.
So this schedule of yours…get comfy. You're going to be spending a lot of time with it.
Some people live to work, but most of us work to live. But…what if there was a way to have the best of both worlds? To both enjoy and get energized from your job, feeling good about the work you do AND create the time to fit all the things that make up life. The dinners. The games. The night time routines. Ugh even the dishes. (Who else feels their best with a clean kitchen?)
The secret is in the scheduling. People who have control over their schedules and flexible work hours have increased job satisfaction and reduced stress and burn out. It also leads to increased job engagement and reduced family/work conflict.
Okay, so finding a schedule that works for you is pretty darn important, right?
Having a schedule that is flexible and works around your needs actually leads to higher levels of satisfaction with your job AND reduced burnout and psychological stress.
Whoa – we all could use a little more stress fighting and burnout busing systems!
There is no perfect number of clients, “right” schedule, or right way to structure your day. Some therapists run full and can see 8 clients in a day 5 days a week and some have a maximum of 5 clients and work three days per week.
BUT, here’s the thing…. there is a perfect schedule - for you. One that leaves you feeling balanced, energized, and without those resentful feelings about missing another dinner, sporting event, or another late night. Me? I like early mornings and start seeing clients at 7am two days per week!
I also believe that scheduling shouldn’t be passive or something that just happens. Scheduling should be a verb – an active and intentional choice about what works for you both in your professional and personal life.
So, I am allllll about self evaluation and I’ve broken down scheduling and satisfaction with your schedule into 8 different areas. I’ve also created a free workbook HERE that walks you through all the areas (with some coloring!) to help you assess and reflect what is working - and isn’t working - about your schedule!
Getting clear is the first step to change, to getting a schedule that is ideal for you!
Grab this FREE workbook to help you break down the 8 categories that go into your schedule and evaluate if when your working is working for you!
AND if after taking the evaluation you realize that your scheduling satisfaction is, well...in the dumps - check out this program HERE! It holds your hand to get you to your ideal schedule!
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.