Kim Richter, the clinical director at Krause Children’s Center in Katy, is certified in “Play Therapy.” Her training is ongoing and made possible by a foundation that funds the “Krause Employee Enrichment Project” or KEEP as it’s called at Krause. Through this program, Kim is also learning to train other therapists in this model of treatment.
Play therapyis one way to help children express themselves. Just like adults, children experience situations and emotions that words alone cannot convey. Through play therapy, they can use metaphors and images to express their deepest fears and truest selves. Below, Kim Richter tells the story of one Krause resident and how she is beginning to express herself through play therapy.
One young lady at Krause, who has struggled with years of physical and sexual abuse, wonders why she is “locked up” and those who did such horrible things to her are “free” in the outside world. After three sessions together, she remains very guarded about sharing information about herself with me. So I decided to do something very different with her. When she entered the room I took her over to the play therapy shelves full of small figurines and items of interest. I asked her to pick as many of those items as she would like and set them aside. I told her, “Don’t worry about what they mean, or what they do. Just pick out the stuff that ‘stands out’ to you.” She looked at me and moved slowly to the collection of items on the shelves. Then very quickly and very deliberately she picked out five items: a princess, a kitty, a diploma, a baby bottle, and a key.
“Great!” I told her. “Now put those items here in this tray of sand. Put them into a placement that makes sense to you.” She looked at her pieces and then very intentionally knelt down next to the sand tray. She quietly dug one hole, put the kitty in it and covered it up. One by one she dug holes and submerged each item. When she had covered that last item she looked up at me and said, “There. I’m done.”
I then began a discussion about the still-covered items. “Why the princess?” I asked. She smiled and replied, “Because I always wanted to be a princess, but I am not, I am fat and ugly.” I nodded my head in understanding. “Why the kitty?” I went on. “I love kitties and I really wish I could have one here. But like everything in my life so far … I can’t have what I want,” she stated. “The key?” “Oh, well, the key is about the key to my heart that I gave to my family. They abused it and me.” “What about the diploma?” “I want to get my diploma someday” she replied. “Well, there is only one other item. What about the baby bottle?” She sighed deeply and replied, “Yeah, the baby bottle is me…was me. I guess these things are all me. And that is why I buried them. I don’t count. No one has ever made me feel like I am important and that I count. I was always told that I was crap and that is what I believe.”
Our discussion went on for awhile and she engaged quite well. She made eye contact with me and allowed herself to be fairly vulnerable. As the hour was coming to a close, I noted the time and asked her if she was ready to go back. “Yeah, I’m ready. I really enjoyed doing this today though,” she said. I acknowledged the work she had done and commented on how I had appreciated the time I had just spent with her. I walked her to the hallway to return to her room and she said, “Wait, I’ll be right back!” and she disappeared back into the room for a split second. She went back over the sand tray, but her back was to me and I could not see what she was doing. She quickly did whatever it was she needed to do and then came running back over to me.
We went to the unit and I left her in the company of her unit staff. Then I went back to my room and walked over to the sand tray. There, standing up, uncovered and positioned very intentionally, was the baby bottle that had been completely covered only moments ago. This was her way of sharing with me, in a nonverbal manner, that for once—maybe for the first time ever—she had felt heard and ‘counted.’