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Turning the HourglassChildren's Passage Through Traumas and Past Lives
By Christine Alisa
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Christine Alisa, MS
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOverview of the Therapeutic Process
The purpose of this chapter is to provide a framework on which to build an understanding of my therapeutic model. Each child's journey of healing in the following chapters describes more in detail the therapeutic process and how it benefited each life.
My experience as a child therapist began with my training in Gestalt Therapy with Children and Adolescents, based on Dr. Violet Oaklander's work. Her renowned child therapy techniques have impacted countless therapists and children throughout the world. I spent years immersing myself in her book, Windows to Our Children, and utilized her teachings with every child I came across during my internship and when I began my private practice. I learned how to use the format of her work along with the mediums and exercises she introduces in Gestalt Therapy with children.
As I continued exploring other therapeutic models, I began to incorporate Past Life Therapy into my practice. After my training with Dr. Morris Netherton, and study of his book, Past Life Therapy, I began using his techniques in my work with adult clients and found that these sessions brought about positive results. I went on to be Master Trainer in the Netherton Method of Past Life Therapy. When I began to use Past Life Therapy in my practice with children, I experienced the same positive results that I had with my adult clients. Thereafter, my therapeutic approach involved the combination of all my trainings and experience. By combining the methodologies that have influenced me, and the creation of my own framework, I feel I have developed a unique approach to helping children heal.
The beginning of the therapeutic process always includes developing an environment of trust and safety for the child. When I establish a place where they can express themselves without judgment, they begin to feel safe. When I 'follow' a child's interests, choices and inclinations, sometimes I am literally following a child around the room, responding and validating his or her interest in something in my therapy office. This process is particularly true for very young children. It is as if I am shadowing them as they move from one activity to another. Being truly with a child gives them chances to experience control with me, and what we do during our sessions and their sense of trust in me grows. By allowing them to express their resistance to some of my suggestions, they know that their opinions will be respected. However, I am also careful to establish clear boundaries so that they know the limits of our therapy sessions. There is no confusion or mixed messages.
When I start working with a child, I establish a few ground rules. They are:
1. We both get a choice. I get to choose an activity and the get to choose one.
2. We clean up our activity before we go on to another, and put everything away at the end of the session.
3. They cannot destroy my room or throw things for the purpose of breaking them, accidents not included. I tell them that I hope they begin to feel that my room is theirs as well as mine and that, therefore, we both want to take care of it.
4. I do not tell their parents or guardians what we do during our therapy session; it is confidential. However, they can tell if they want. Sometimes I will request permission to tell their parents something that I feel would help both the parent and them, but I will only do this if they say it is all right. However, I do have to tell if they inform me that someone is hurting or abusing them, or that they want to hurt themselves.
These simple rules give the children a structure that provides safety and consistency. When these two elements are present, children can explore the darker parts of their lives with the assurance that this exploration is done inside a capsule of healthy boundaries. The children and adolescents I see begin to depend on these rules. Often children will come to me at the beginning of our session and say, 'Remember, last time we didn't have time for my choice and you said I could have my choice first?" I honor their choice and thank them for remembering. My philosophy about children is that if you speak to them with the same respect as you would give to an adult, using clear 'kid words' that they can comprehend, they will not only understand me but feel respected by me. I never talk down to them because I believe and expect that at some level them know and understand what I am saying.
The mediums I use in my therapy work include sand trays, clay, drawing and painting materials, puppets, dramatic skits and play using dress-up costumes, role playing, creative imagination stories, 'Oogla' (a malleable substance made of cornstarch and water), therapeutic games and games just for fun. Sand tray work consists of two containers full of sand and shelves full of objects and small figures that can be placed in the sand to make a scene. In the following chapters, I will show how each child uses some or all of these mediums in the therapy we do together. As you read each of their stories, you will become familiar with how I use these mediums/tools.
The model on which I base my work is having the child doing two things at once, creating their own story in a particular medium and helping me to create mine. For example, I have two sand trays that sit side by side. One is for the child and the other for me. Nearby I have shelves full of small figures typical of those found in many child therapy offices. I ask the child to create a scene using the figures while I make a scene of my own. They can select whatever they want from the shelves while I select certain specific items for the purpose of my own story. While they are creating their scene, I start to talk about mine, asking them to help me with my scene by answering my questions. This is the directive part of my work. Then when they have finished with their scene, we talk about their work. If we are immersing our hands in malleable clay, I may ask them to make something in particular or whatever they want while I create a scene with my clay. Once again, I ask them to help me with my clay figures while they continue exploring their own clay creations. The same type of process can be done with drawings, puppets, small plays or games. I tell them that they can both work on their own creation and help me with mine at the same time. In all my years of doing this work I have never had a child who said they could not do two things at once, nor have I seen any of them have any trouble doing so. The only variations I have seen is that some children become so involved in my scene that they want to add pieces, change my clay creation or add something to my drawing. They begin to feel that my 'story' is now their own and that, of course, is my goal. The stories come from the children's own background and events in their lives. With his or her help a story forms that may include a birth, a traumatic experience or a metaphor that is similar to her/his life.
Once I have completed my creation I embark on a story. The child, meanwhile, continues to enhance their creation. The mediums I work with often put children into a kind of altered state, one of deep concentration, as they are drawn further and further into manipulating the medium. An artist can tell you, that while they are drawing, painting or sculpting, they tend to go into a 'zone,' a place where they are so caught up in the process, that their hands know where to go because their right brain is totally engaged. This is the state that children enter when they work with the mediums I offer. They also share their own scene, clay creation , painting, drawing, etc., which becomes part of the therapeutic process as well. Often the child will create just the thing that they need to that will fit with the story I am building. Other times, they create scenes that are an expression of where they are in their lives, their hopes, dreams, fears and wishes.
Children and artists are not the only ones who move into an altered state while using these mediums. While I was giving a workshop to a large group of therapists who wanted to learn how I work with children, I gave them all a piece of clay and a simple clay board. They had a bit of water in case the clay got hard. I asked them to just 'feel' the clay, move it around in their hands, let the clay speak to them, tell them if it wanted them to make something or just explore the texture of the clay. I spoke to them about my work with children and gave a demonstration with one person on how I work with my process. The rest of the group still had the clay in their hands manipulating it during the whole time I gave the demonstration, for about an hour. Afterward, we had a sharing time where many told me their experiences with the clay. They described having memories from childhood that they had not thought about for years. As they manipulated the clay, they shared about past traumas in their childhood or past-life experiences that seemed to pop into their mind. Many were moved by these perceptions, which gave them a deeper understanding of how the medium, itself, can induce a rich altered state. By listening to my words and the questions that I was asking the demonstration participant, they entered the world of untapped, emotionally-charged revelations. This altered state is a vehicle for doing regression work with children and adults, a technique that is non-threatening and that brings material to the surface with ease and grace.
When I work with my child and adolescent clients, we begin in a quiet way, with no conversation so that the child can enter the realm of the altered state. At the point where I begin to sense the child's affect, his absorption in what he/she is doing, I begin my story. I may start by describing my scene, which might involve the birth of a baby. I make a mound of sand in the tray with a baby inside and say, "This is the mom's tummy and the baby is being born." Or I might say, "This clay figure is a mom and this baby figure is being born. This is a story that happened a long time ago." I encourage the child to help me by answering questions that are simple, concrete and direct. I continue to manipulate the figures in my scene as the child answers my questions.
When I first introduce the story process, I often talk to the children/adolescents about the conscious and the unconscious mind. For younger children I usually tell them that they have two minds, the one that they are using with me - the one they use everyday to talk, learn and play -and another mind, a deeper mind, that is kind of like the mind they use when they are dreaming at night. Younger children understand nightmares and have often had them, so I tell them that it is like being asleep but having your deep mind have a good dream or nightmare.
With children who are a little older, and certainly adolescents, I explain the two types of consciousness by drawing a picture of two circles that overlap a bit. One represents the conscious mind, which we use every day, the mind we are aware of, and the other represents the unconscious or subconscious mind. I might use the example of the sleeping, dreaming mind with them as well. I tell them that the unconscious mind has thoughts and information that the conscious mind does not know about because these kind of thoughts can bother a person. For example, I once worked with a boy who lived in California, earthquake country, and was afraid of earthquakes. He literally had nightmares about earthquakes. When he was small, he had experienced a minor earthquake, could not forget it, and, kept worrying that it would happen again. I explained to him that fear stays in the unconscious, deeper, dream mind and that this mind cannot do anything about it. However, if we tell ourselves and others the stories that come from that mind and the conscious mind hears us talking, it can figure out what to do about these fears. The conscious mind can problem solve, but the unconscious mind cannot. It just goes around in circles. However, if we can create a story to let the conscious mind know more about something like our fear of earthquakes and where that fear came from, then the conscious mind can overlap with the circle of the unconscious mind. At that point they can both share the same information and can begin working together to help deal with the fear and solve the problem. This description of the unconscious vs. conscious mind is used in adult regression work, as developed by Dr. Morris Netherton.
Everything in the work I do is about playing. Playing brings the therapist and child together using child language. When a therapist 'follows' a child's play, lets them hold the reigns for awhile, children feel a sense of joy at getting an adult to do what they want them to do (within reason, of course). These kinds of activities build a sense of control over their environment that many children need. It is the child's feeling that they lack control that often drives their symptoms or behaviors.
This relationship of playing together is one of the most healing experiences for children. For years we have known that play is the way children try to work out their issues. Children play games of hide and seek to get that wonderful feeling of 'tricking' someone, jumping out and running after someone when they least expect it. On the other hand hiding from someone who does not know where you are is great fun. Beating me at games is a delight to children as they get to experience some manner of control in their lives.
When I play board games with children, I am always faced with their control issues. Some children hate to lose a game more than others, and this can be an indication that they hate the feeling of being an underdog, a victim. This reaction points particularly to a child who struggles with the horrible feeling of having no control in parts of his or her life and being hurt. I have a very large selection of games in my office. Some of these games particularly were created for the use of counselors and therapists. Some are just fun games.
There are other modalities that I utilize, which I describe as 'feelings work.' At one time or another in my work with children, anger becomes the primary focus. One model for releasing anger is called 'Bashing.' This is when I instruct the child to use cards or paper to write down the names of things or people that they are angry with, and then place these pieces of paper on a big pillow. The child takes a plastic bat bought at a toy store, sits in front of the pillow and hits the piece of paper as many times as they need to. With my help, they verbalize their anger on the issue or person for the purpose of releasing their mad feelings. We also put patterns on the papers, such as a behavior they don't want anymore. They can then bash that pattern. I also utilize pounding clay with a rubber mallet as an effective way for the child to release their anger. Along with bashing a person's name or an unwanted behavior pattern, I have found hitting a pillow, screaming into a pillow and other creative ways that children come up with are part of the work of releasing unwanted feelings. Other emotions emerge through the course of this work with children, mainly sadness, fear, hurtfulness, confusion and helplessness. I also use various other mediums to help the child describe their feelings, such as, painting their feelings or verbalizing them aloud. One of the goals of therapy includes the ability to express one's feelings and one's thoughts. The more the children can experience and learn this skill during our sessions together, the better they can communicate with others outside of therapy.
Watching the child's affect is essential. Affect is a term used to describe someone's mood, level of activity/tension/ emotion/position in their body and how the focus their attention. I watch for any subtle or not so subtle change in a child's affect while we are together. For example, there is a nine-year-old boy whom I am working with whose level of frustration explodes when he's doing his homework. When we talked about how it felt right before his got angry and had a temper tantrum, he said, "It's like everything is going good and then something bad happens."
I asked him, "What was the feeling you had just for a split second when the 'something bad' happened, when you got frustrated and wanted to rip up your homework?"
"It was fear," he answered.
"If there was a story of someone who had something bad happen to him, what would that be? Just say the first thing that comes to mind?"
Out of his mouth came the words, "Heart attack." Right at that moment, he jumped in his seat. He looked at me with surprise and said, "I just said the thing that came to me." We talked about heart attacks for a bit and finished the story, which was about a man who had a good life. Then all of a sudden, he had a heart attack. Hence, something good was happening and then something bad happened. The boy's jumping in his seat in a kind of surprised, startled affect was the cue to me. It was a shift into a mood, a body reaction where cell memory resides. Sometimes children are so shocked for a minute when something they have never experienced before jumps out of them. They are surprised that something came out of their mouths seemingly from nowhere. It is like a startle response, a physical reaction to the surfacing of unconscious material. This 'startle affect" just means that this material/past-life memory was close to the surface of the unconscious mind and ready to be cleared.
Excerpted from Turning the Hourglass by Christine Alisa Copyright © 2012 by Christine Alisa, MS. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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