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!
In the world of Play Therapy there are so many ways to tell stories. Bibliotherapy (which I talk about here, here, here and here), Sand Tray, puppet shows, art, aaannnnd nearly any other way- both with or without - your favorite toys and gear. As Lisa Dion would say - YOU are the most important toy in the Playroom!
Well, to add one more tool to your toolbox, here is an activity for telling stories that is perfect for middle school and teenage clients! The clients that you know still want to play, okay - still need to play, but play might look a little different. These are the difficult in-the-middle young people that need something a little more than talking but don’t typically respond to breaking out the puppets.
So, I want to start off with a little story of my own.
What seemed like eons ago - but was really 3 offices ago, (okay 4 if you count my pandemic home office) I fell in love with Story Stones - like these here, here, and here! I came across them on Pinterest and although the article was about homeschooling my mind definitely went to these being perfect for Play Therapy!
After going to the Dollar Tree, getting some nice flat rocks, and deciding on what symbols lent themselves most to therapeutic storytelling (taking inspiration from my Sand Tray miniatures) - I busted out my paint pens and went to town! I sealed these beautiful storytelling rocks with sprayable varnish and into a little bag they went.
As they found a home in my Playroom I noticed that younger clients much preferred the more traditional toys that my Playroom had to offer and I really didn’t connect the dots that older children might really get into these. Fast forward to pandemic times and I got myself some Rory’s Story Cubes after hearing fellow Play Therapists rave about them.
They are fantastic for Tele-Play where I roll the dice and re-arrange them (with client direction) in sequential order for the story. AND they have definitely kept my middle school aged clients engaged, which can be quite tricky virtually.
I am always a big believer with any technique of following the Golden Thread. Meaning, not just using these story cubes for fun or as a time kill BUT to meaningfully link to their goals. Okay - so here are the goals and techniques I find story tiles, cubes, or rocks MOST suited for (to name a few):
Now during my time with these cubes I was noticing I was troubleshooting several themes and difficulties.
The original Story Cubes are the darkest, easiest to see on Tele-health, and are by far the most frequently chosen. If you are investing in one pack I would go with the Classic pack - they are around $13.00. I found the other packs I was having to hold the dice up to the screen more and explain the actions.
I also found a lot of confusion with how to tell a story. I found I really needed to go over the basics of beginning, middle, and end. Also covering what the point of the story is and how to make it all come together. I find what comes naturally in the sand, with drawings, and Child Centered work needs to be a little bit more laid out.
AND I learned that if I gave a quick example first it went muuuuch better than if I explained it and let them dive in right away. With that I usually got the “ a sad man lived in a castle with a creepy shadow. One day a bee came and landed outside of a building. The sheep used a cane and said “I need to find the key” story that was over in less than 2 minutes. And felt more like the child trying to cram in the cubes rather than making and creating a story. And both of those together? Welllll... not very therapeutic.
I also found that sometimes it was good to see the first telling of the story as a “rough draft” and it was important to give it a second pass. I wanted the client to give it a go on their own the first round so the story could be authentically theirs and then “edit” the story together.
On the other hand some clients really benefitted form co-telling a story where I took one sentence and they followed with another. My sentences and story themes were always tailored to what I believed they might need within the story and using nonverbal cues as a guide!
Lastly, I started to develop “rules” depending on the young person and their goals for how the story would be told, themes, etc. After noticing the same questions, themes, and rules popping up, I developed them into this fun printable that is amazing for printing out and laminating. This way you can circle the rules that apply for that specific story and then just erase away for the next client! OR for Tele-Play you can screen share and decide on the rules together.
Want in on the FREE printable? Grab yours HERE!
Not sure you want to invest in Story Cubes? No worries - here are some completely FREE ideas here to give it a spin before committing. You can absolutely create your own with stones like I did with some paint markers and rocks or even easier yet? Copy and paste clip art into a spreadsheet or grid and either print it out and laminate.
For Tele-Play you can either email it to your client, screen share on a whiteboard, or share in a Google Doc. If you are going the Google Doc route please make sure that each client has a separate file (ie copy and paste the original) to prevent a breach of confidentiality if two clients are in the same document at the same time. To get the “rolling” element you can label each photo with a number and use 1-2 dice (most clients will have on hand they can borrow from a board game) to roll the pictures for the story. You could do an unlimited number of banks of 6 to tell the story!
Looking for something a little more, umm… done for you? Check out these free resources HERE, HERE, HERE, annnnnd HERE!
And, however you choose to story tell don’t forget to grab your FREE download HERE!
First things first, I'm a little biased but.. isn't this client the CUTEST? Izzy is really getting her time to shine bright like a diamond here as an official therapy dog for this photo shoot. When this cute little pup became ours I had high hopes and dreams of her being a therapy dog I could take to the office. I did the trainings, took some CE courses, and it turns out.... field bread springer spaniels (at list this one) are not great therapy dog candidates. This was a GREAT lesson in radical acceptance of our Izzy just the way she is with all her unique gifts and talents.
Now that the introduction is out of the way, on to the tips!
My Tele-Play journey has exploded since last March, but it didn’t begin there. As I mentioned HERE I began my Telemental Health practice a little under a year before that point as a way to support clients in my transition from the Twin Cities to Duluth, MN. For some it was a bridging between providers and for others it has been a consistent way that we engaged in therapy.
Well…the 3-4 weeks I thought I would be practicing all virtual in March has (as I am sitting here typing this) turned into nine months. Nine whole months of Telehealth and Tele-Play. This journey has felt a little like a Dr. Suess book where I played in my garage (with a woodsy backdrop of course), the corner of my bedroom, and now a new home office as I transition living spaces! The office that was in the making two years ago and I never dreamed how much I would need it until now!
Since I have been at this for a bit I wanted to share some of my reflections and a little more of the informal tips as I have navigated this space fully for the last 9 months, and anticipate that it won’t change anytime soon.
If you and I were to sit down for coffee to chat (let’s be honest it would probably be virtual coffee right now) here is what I would tell you:
Have a great informed consent
Make sure that you are clear with parents and young people about what to expect and what their roles are. Some topics to be sure to cover is the specific platform, how they can login, where they can login from (ie only in your state depending on licensure and reciprocity rules for your license) backup platforms, way to contact you if they need to troubleshoot technology, who will be present during the session (the parent, the child, or a combination), what space sessions should take place in, how to maintain privacy, a plan for if technology goes down, ending rituals (mine is a “wave off” with parents so we can both be on the same page with exactly when the session is ending), and what materials the family may need to gather. For me I either have worked with the family to develop a play therapy kit at home or have sent kits HERE. We have gone over clear and specific rules about when and how toys will be played with and stored. Want to know more about informed consent? Check out this resource HERE!
Have a great safety plan
Have crystal clear information about what your role is should there be a crisis. Specifically, how you will react and what your plan is to keep them safe? For me I will call a parent if technology is down for two minutes and parents are required to be accessible by phone for the duration of the session. If the client has suicidal ideations have a clear plan that is communicated to the client about what steps you will take to keep them safe. If a client is not suicidal – you still need a safety plan! Think of things like if a child was choking or having a seizure, or if the parent was having a heart attack, etc. In the office you have control over how to get resources for help. Virtual requires an extra step.
Verify location each time
So, speaking of safety plans, if you don’t have their address in the moment any safety plan you have is useless! Oh, and sometimes (especially being in a boarder town) people visit relatives or go to the cabin in another state and even though you have clarified in your informed consent they need to be in the same state (if that applies to you) sometimes they forget and you don’t find out until they login. For a lot of clients, you may see the same picture in the background and you can easily verify they are at home with a quick “you’re at home today?”. I also HIGHLY recommend having quick and easy access to their address.
Have backup plans
Tech trouble happens. Ugh. More than we would like. I have had spontaneous updates on my computer, it shut down for some unknown reason, and the inevitable inability to login. Lately – on DoxyMe for a couple people my voice sounds like a robot for the first one to two minutes of the session and then we are business as usual.
So, when we are talking backup, I mean both another devise to login on as well as virtual platforms. I have a phone (although not ideal) that I can login to platforms should my computer be out of commission and I have two online platforms that I can move seamlessly between should one not be working for a specific client.
Be ready to improvise
Client logs in at Uncle Ben’s for their appointment? Maybe it is within the state at a secure and private location but…they forgot their Play Therapy kit at home. For young people who I do mostly Child Centered work with, I always have some directive Play Therapy techniques on hand I can quickly go to that will help with work towards goals.
Get clear on your boundaries
Also really be clear on and limits, rules, and structure you want to create around things like clients logging in in the car, having others present during session, client’s not having their face on camera, and the list could go on! When you are clear then your clients also know what is permitted vs not – setting you both up for success!
Get good ear gear
For some of us we like the large ear covers where we look a little like a fighter pilot. For me, I prefer ear buds. Okay, here is where it gets a little TMI. Sometimes my ears get a little itchy. I guess that is what wearing these sometimes for 9 hours per day does. I like to immediately take out my buds between sessions and have found that these covers HERE allow my buds to stick in a bit better. Also – never underestimate the power of sanitizing your ear gear!
I am very pro headphones because it minimizes any feedback that can happen. Although it is best case that both you and the client are wearing earbuds, most of my children don’t wear them as it restricts movement. However, I also take those babies out the moment we click off to give my ears a chance to rest.
Oh, and I would recommend a backup set unless your headphones stay at your desk! I once lost my earbuds for two weeks and it was a bit stressful tearing apart my house to find them and waiting for Amazon to deliver me a new set!
Get good internet
There is nothing worse than video being dropped and glitching. Whatever you need to do to get the best internet signal you can is completely worth it for the quality of therapy you can provide to your clients. A good router, ability to plug right into the wall, and boosters will be your best friends.
Lighting is key
As someone who has moved around offices a bit, finding the right lighting is always the first step in a new space. When I most recently moved home office spaces I (of course) chose the space where the sun beamed in my face for the first 3 sessions of the day. Day two involved a desk move and MUCH nicer and softer lighting.
You want lighting that is not too harsh, not too dark, but just right. Kind of like goldilocks. All of this is not so you look photoshoot ready, it is so the client has the best ability and chance to read all of the nonverbal cues you are giving them.
I did order a ring light HERE for extra lighting. This one had pretty good reviews and a low price point, and for the times I have needed it, it has provided great light! It has a warm and cool light setting. AND I found out (after purchase) that it has panda ears, so that’s a win.
Organize, organize, organize
My Tele-Play life got SO much easier when I got really serious about getting a new desk and had plenty of space to spread out the things I needed. Our nervous systems work extra hard trying to decode dangerous from safe when we sift through clutter you are actually more relaxed when you go into a neat and organized space.
I am not only talking about paperwork but toys too! I found that life got so much easier when I paired down my available Tele-Play toys to having one of the kits I sent to clients for Tele-Play and a select few Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapy toys like my big feeling eaters, Uno, and Mindful Kid Cards.
This sometimes can be a hard one! In full transparency because I write my notes between sessions, there are always emails to check, and things to do, sometimes it can be hours before I stand up and move.
Tuning into our bodies and understanding what we need is key. Sometimes it is intentional movement and stretching and other times it is a drink of water or some mindful breathing. During session my favorite go to strategies are a weighted lap blanket and a grounding object. I have several stones I have picked up on hikes and at the beach and sometimes just holding the physical object can help ground you to stay present with your client.
Be curious about play themes
I have found that Tele-Play offers so many rich play themes that one might initially interpret as “resistance”. Like, going out to sight of the camera or covering the camera up? Could this be a play theme of power, a new age “hide and seek” or playing out the difficulty with the distance? Coming close to the camera and then going far away could also be relational and distance themes. What about the kids to scare the living daylights out of you by putting something really scary up to the screen? I have SO enjoyed seeing how play themes shift in the virtual space.
Have a good referral source
This last one is a bit painful. Really painful. What we know is that research has found virtual sessions as effective and in some cases more effective than in office therapy. And, the hard truth is that some clients have such an intense difficulty with virtual and will need in person. I trust that each therapist carefully weights the pros and cons and makes decisions that are best for their practice and clients. For me it was all virtual. If a client is struggling it is SO helpful to have an in-person referral resource on hand to refer to should you need.
As I am reflecting on these last nine months, Tele-Play is such a mixed bag. I talk about my gratitude for Tele-Play HERE. There is so much to be grateful for and Tele-Play has pushed me to be more creative and thoughtful about my practice.
And, some days I feel sad, missing the in person nervous system connection, and missing the comfort of the Playroom. Some days it is the frustration of misattunement with a client when you can’t really tell if they are crying so you have to ask. OR when they are a wee bit back from the microphone and everything comes out garbled so you have to ask them to repeat themselves. And who can forget the ever popular “I can see you can you hear me” ritual that happens during logins.
I know we will ride this wave and someday my Playroom will open. But until then I will keep on (virtually) playing on!
So…if we were actually having a coffee chat, what would you share with me? Spill your BEST Tele-Play tips and reflections in the comments!
At this point in the Tele-Play journey, it kind of feels like we all need to be earning badges.
I’m thinking along the lines of badges like the having a pet interrupted your session badge, throwing yourself together 2 minutes before the top of the hour badge, the “I can hear you, but I can’t see you” badge, the roller coaster room tour badge, and my personal favorite – the complete tech crash badge!
And if you have been in this for the long haul (like me since March) you really need to get yourself a Tele-Play sash to display all your badges.
As COVID-19 numbers are climbing and things are getting even more unprecedented (ugh…I didn’t know that could even be a thing), Play Therapists are ramping up to begin to return to virtual, start virtual for the first time, or are plugging away at the Tele-Play marathon – like this girl right here!
I wanted to do a roundup of my most favorite resources from The Playful Therapist Blog as well as the other brilliant Play Therapists around the internet to help energize and support you no matter where you are on your journey! I found I was sending these resources to supervisees and wanted to share them with you too!
Let’s dive in to The Playful Therapist resources:
Now, on to my most absolute favorite Tele-Play resources from around the internet:
BONUS: Dr. Katysue Tillman is a veteran in the Tele-Play space with over 7 years of Tele-Play experience! Although I can’t currently find any freebies or recorded courses she has available, she has put a TON of free trainings out for Play Therapists and usually posts and updates in the Facebook groups above! ***UPDATE*** Dr. Tillman has a YouTube channel where she has uploaded her first Tele-Play training as well as other Tele-Play Therapy videos! Check it out HERE!
These are my favorite and most used and recommended resources for a Tele-Play practice! What are yours? Drop your favorite free resources below!
AND most importantly - what are your favorite play therapy "badges" you have earned (without client information of course)?
Facebook is one of my absolute favorite places to connect with other Play Therapists, share ideas, get updates about trainings, and to get resources! Ohh so many resources!
And this week? I joined the Facebook world by creating the Meehan Mental Health Services business page. It's official! Check out my new Facebook page HERE and give it a like for good measure!
This is a place where you can get the latest blog updates, freebies, giveaways, sales, and resources straight to your newsfeed! Annnnd speaking of giveaways I will be giving away 3 prize bundles to celebrate! Check out my new page or join my e-mail list below for updates!
In the spirit of all things Facebook, I wanted to create a master list of some of my favorite groups and pages!
Favorite Play Therapy and EMDR Groups:
Favorite Facebook Pages:
Annnd for a little comic relief:
I'm hoping you consider adding my new Facebook page to your list of faves!
I've shared mine, now it's your turn! What are some of your favorite Facebook pages and other therapists to follow? Drop a link below!
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.