With an influx of research on mindfulness and self-awareness, even schools are beginning to notice. They, too, are learning the benefits of having students meditate and practice yoga.
As a social worker who has worked with young students myself, I was interested in Dottie Higgins-Klein’s Mindfulness-Based Play-Family Therapy. In it, she sets out to help children heal from emotional suffering and “change behavioral problems that accompany that suffering.”
The director of the Family & Play Therapy Center in Philadelphia, Higgins-Klein facilities families playing together in an imaginary realm. The idea of this approach is that therapists can then make meaning of that play in order to explore and work through a child’s feelings, thoughts, and emotions.
Aside from the details of this method, the book also covers how early childhood development can inform issues later in a child’s life — a subject on which all clinicians should stay updated. Specifically, Higgins-Klein offers a wealth of information on neurobiology, including how early trauma and attachment are recorded in the right side of the brain and can later affect the ability to cope with interpersonal stressors.
And rather than pathologize a young client, Higgins-Klein shifts us toward a more compassion perspective. Often, professionals identify someone coming into therapy as the “identified patient.” In this book, however, Higgins-Klein refers to the client as “child of most concern,” or the MC child. This removes the pointing finger and invites a new way to look at the child and her experiences.
There are other things, the book explains, that therapists must keep in mind as they embark on play therapy.
First, they must be comfortable with silence, especially when working with children who have experienced trauma. As Higgins-Klein writes, many children are quiet during parts of the exploring stage, and therapists need to learn to just be with the child. This allows them to explore their feelings, plus their ability to trust.
It can be hard for therapists, however, who want to fill the silence and make meaning of the play, or push the play along. Higgins-Klein gives insight into what a mindful therapist would say, as well as what an “unmindful response” looks like.
Readers will also appreciate the book’s thoughtfulness when it comes to cultural, social, and individual factors that affect families. Having been involved in play therapy trainings and sessions myself, I found the text an invaluable resource for taking histories of both the child and the parent(s). It explains how to incorporate this background into a treatment plan — and how to include family members in nurturing their relationship with their child and with each other.
There are particular situations, too, that the book goes over. Along with the intake process and steps in the evaluation, the author discusses how to work with stepfamilies, victims of domestic violence, and bereavement, all of which can affect the process.
Play therapy can be quite useful. But even if you may not want to use this approach in your own practice, Higgins-Klein gives an excellent overview of childhood development — and of the ways families are affected by their histories.
Mindfulness-Based Play-Family Therapy: Theory and Practice
W. W. Norton & Company, September 2013
Hardcover, 360 pages