Feeling Together Blog

EMOTIONAL WELLNESS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY

Family play therapy is as unique as your family

People seeking family play therapy often wonder if the family play therapist has ever worked with “families like ours.” This is a good question for anyone seeking family play therapy to ask a potential therapist! If the answer is, “No,” it doesn’t mean it’s the wrong family play therapist for you. After all, in my experience, every family is unique.

The easier question, to me, is “What does family play therapy sound like?” Usually … loud. Whether the family includes small children, teenagers, adult sibling sets, or a mix of partners, everyone wants to have his or her say. That makes sense.

  • We all want to be validated
  • We all long to be seen and heard
  • We all desire to know we matter

… especially to the people we love.

We don’t outgrow our need for validation. It is not a sign of weakness, it is a mark of our strength. Lack of validation is where families get in trouble. It is really easy to assume that our experience is the only correct experience. The reality is we all live in our own little worlds and perceive reality differently. We need our experiences validated.

Why Integrate Play Therapy and Family Therapy?

By integrating family therapy and play therapy, more family members have the opportunity to express themselves! Young children don’t always have the words to participate in verbal discussions, but they can speak with the toys they choose. In fact, in the case of trauma, even older children and adults might find it easier to express themselves through toys and play than to express themselves with words. So much of trauma is simply unspeakable.

Is It Normal to Have Conflict in Families?

Yes! As mentioned above, we each inhabit our own world. We may live and eat together, but our experiences are uniquely ours. Because they feel so true to us, we can get trapped into thinking they are the only truth (and the others are wrong).

Family members clash when they:

  • Assume their experience is the only truth
  • Deny others a different experience
  • Doubt their own experience matters
  • Impose their experience onto others
  • Aren’t allowed to share their experience
  • Don’t express themselves

And the list goes on because there are many ways not to validate our own or another person’s experience.

What does family play therapy look like?

It looks like a specially trained therapist guiding a group of people who consider each other family–by blood or bond–through the process of exploring, discovering, listening to, and validating one another’s experience. They use toys and art in many ways to facilitate that process. Eventually, as people tune into their emotions, the sessions get centered and quieter. The family members feel their feelings, share them, and get the sense that others are impacted by what they have to say. As they hear each other, solutions emerge and change occurs.

These quieter times are the ones we’ve been avoiding. They are the times we express our more vulnerable feelings. Turning inward and revealing ourselves is harder than pointing fingers. Yet, it is the work of relationships–especially love and family relationships. It is how we grow.

What does family play therapy feel like?

I find this work to be filled with a full range of emotions, especially the more vulnerable ones like sadness and fear.  I feel them too. There are times, however, when people are finally hearing and seeing each other–showing that they matter to each other–that the hair on my arms stands up. That’s when the therapy feels sacred.

Feeling like we don’t matter to the people that matter most, is terrifyingly painful. It triggers a fight-or-flight response in us. We feel like our survival is up for grabs. If we can learn to relate warmly to the people who have hurt us the most, surely we can relate to everyone else. That’s why, to me, successful family play therapy is an image of hope.

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