Contribute to the EmotiPlush Kickstarter campaign!

EmotiPlush dolls are the expressive dolls every play therapist has been waiting for. These dolls are adorable, sure…but they also have one of the most unique features I’ve ever seen, and it’s one that’s especially useful in play therapy. Watch the video (which is pretty delightful in itself–done in the style of an old silent movie) and find out what makes these dolls so special. Contribute to the kickstarter campaign now to help bring these great toys into play therapy rooms everywhere! And be sure to check out the rewards for contributing!


July Play Therapy Wrap-Up (We’re Back!)

After a brief absence and a change of venue, your favorite play therapy blog is back at a new and improved location. Here are a few things that we’ve come across over the past couple of months…

-For those of you who have never seen the classic 1972 documentary film Sandplay with Dora M. Kalff, Dr. Eric Green has posted the film in its entirety.

-If you’re not already member of APT, join now! Here are a couple of brochures explaining the organization and the benefits of getting involved. The APT also recently posted a Training Directory of approved providers and has launched a Career Center for job seekers and employers.

-CreativeCounseling101 posts lots of great sand tray therapy ideas including this one for building your own bridge. (You can also purchase bridges for sand tray use at!)

-The Minnesota Sandplay Therapy Group just put out a new edition of their newsletter Sandspiel (great name!). It’s full of great articles and updates, including news about the upcoming conference they’re calling “Exploring Relationships in Sandplay on the Mighty Mississippi”.

-Can yoga be considered a form of play? A new book by Louise Gold suggests that the two can at least be used in tandem to help children with PDD. There’s a nice review of the book at PsychCentral.

-This article does a great job of summing up play therapy with its title alone.

-A very helpful short video from a New York play therapist about the value and use of play therapy.

-I came across this research paper from 1976 on non-directive play therapy. Very interesting to see what’s still relevant today, as well as how the practice has evolved.

-As box office earnings suggest: people love superheroes…children especially. Kids frequently incorporate superheroes into their play, as the idea of having superhuman powers provides a great spark to the imagination. An upcoming workshop in Sacramento will look into the history of the Big Three (Superman, Batman, and Wonderwoman) and what children can reveal through there interactions with them in play.

-Certified Sandplay Therapist and Teacher Barbara Turner, PhD will be traveling the globe over the next year leading training courses.

-For the dog-lovers out there, here’s a news story about therapy dogs being used to help alleviate the physical and emotional stress children can experience in a courthouse setting.

-The results of a recent study suggest that poor treatment of children can affect the way their gene’s are activated.

-August’s Sand Tray Miniature of the Month is not just one figure, but our entire selection of strong female figures. While boys are known for their fondness for digging around in the dirt and sand, any great sand tray collection should include just as many expressive tools for girls. The selection at ChildTherapyToys includes lots of strong female characters such as Athena, Joan of Arc, and, of course, Wonder Woman!

Have an awesome August everyone!




Pinterest as a therapeutic tool!

Here’s another great submission from Megan Boyd. Ms. Boyd received a certificate to for her submission. Learn how you can do the same!

I am so excited to share this intervention with you guys!! I have been waiting for just the right client to try this with, and I have finally found one of my adolescents who is responding to Pinning as a therapeutic tool. 

This particular client is a 12 year old female. She is not only presenting with some symptoms of depression but she has been having a difficult time emotionally communicating with me as her counselor. 

I observed at our first meeting that this client was not entirely comfortable with conversation/discussion, so I tried the typical routes of drawing and coloring and worksheets. These interventions were not creating an atmosphere of trust or engagement. So tonight I introduced my client to Pinterest. Initially, I shared a sample board with her; explaining the premise of the site itself. I showed her various categories, and even gave her examples of how I am using the site.  

I handed my client the tablet and watched her play around with creating her own Pinterest boards, and her face immediately lit up. Just by a few clicks, I had already gathered insight into her self-esteem, her feelings, her interests, and her challenges. By responding to her selection of pins and categories, she explained what she related to in the pictures, and “guessed” as to what the motivation of each picture meant… The best part was that we were able to identify cohesive themes and tie these to her previously reported symptoms. Some of the pictures around this post are examples of what she chose….if you look closely you’ll be able to see the themes as well.

With the caregiver’s permission, I invited this client to create more boards as her homework between sessions. I encouraged the two of them to complete these activities together; (ex. Create a board of movies they would like to watch). I will be checking in with this family next week, and I can’t wait to see if and how this has affected their communication. 

Please let me know if you try anything like this with your clients! I’d love to hear other ideas and/or suggestions for modifications!

This was originally posted on “The Unconventional Counselor”. Be sure to stop by and check out more great posts like this one. 

Journey Toward Healing

This article comes to us from Megan Boyd and was originally posted on her blog “The Unconventional Counselor”. Be sure to stop by and check out more great posts like this one. (Ms. Boyd earned a gift certificate to for her submission. Learn how you can do the same!)

The entire nation watched in horror as the events of December 14, 2012 unfolded in Newton, Connecticut.  The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting took the lives of 28 people that day; 20 innocent children, 6 staff members, the perpetrator, and his mother. There is no possible way to wrap your head around what these families and communities have been through.

As helping professionals, our immediate response is to want to figure out some way to help. As a community counselor, I thought about the children I work with, and how I would have reacted or what I would have done if these were my clients in my community. Traumas of this magnitude are so unthinkable that when they do occur we recognize the long journey that this community is going to need to work through in order to find some sense of peace surrounding that devastating day. Moreover, the 1 year anniversary is quickly approaching, which will trigger the emotions and events for each individual experience.

Approximately 20 miles outside of Newton sits the quaint community of Wilton. Filled with historical buildings and beautiful fall foliage, the towns of Wilton & Newton are not estranged. The residents of each share a history of shared trauma from 9/11, and in most social circles there is at least 1 degree of separation from a direct victim of the Sandy Hook massacre.

Within the past 2 days, a team of counselors comprised of faculty and doctoral students from Mercer University’s Counselor Education & Supervision Program had the opportunity to meet with some of these community residents, particularly those in the helping profession, (counselors, case managers, religious leaders, etc.) that were affected by this tragedy.

As a part of this team, I hope we made a tiny impression on their healing. We lead a 3-course workshop surrounding grief, loss, & trauma, sharing information about what they can expect for themselves as well as their clients they are serving. I am grateful for the opportunity be a part of this team. The following themes were addressed with attendees:

*Systemic Loss, (Community/Familial/Relational)

*Tasks of Grief

*Expected behaviors associated with grief/loss for children and adults

*Concerning behaviors associated with grief/loss for children and adults

*The individualized experience of grief/loss

*Trauma responses; including PTSD and symptomology

*How to make a referral

*Attending to scope of practice

*Self-care assessment

As I made my way back to Atlanta, I had some time to reflect on the experience, and I am finding myself feeling hopeful, humbled, and extremely thankful to have been able to be a part of this.

The space for the workshop was provided by Wilton Baptist Church, which was absolutely beautiful. It was upon first entering this building that the gravity of what this population endured began to set in. The people we met were immediately willing to share their story, how they are connected to Newtown, and how they are connected to the helping professionals.  We are especially thankful for the cooperation and collaboration with The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship for coordinating this trip.

After the first day of the workshop, the pastor conducted an inter-faith worship service. He lit a candle for each of the victims. Prior to the candles being lit, I was able to view the alter. Something about seeing this image and what it represented was an overwhelming visual.

Using Face Painting in Family Therapy

This great intervention idea was submitted by reader Paula Jensen. Ms. Jensen earned a gift certificate to for her submission. Learn how you can do the same!

This is a creative therapy technique that can be used between a parent and child, two or more siblings, or a couple.


Materials: Face paint in many different colors; a sheet of pictures/ideas; soap and water for clean-up, and a mirror.

Session length: 60-75 minutes (including clean up).

  1. Each client is allowed about 20-25 minutes to paint a design of their choosing on their family member’s face (e.g. parent paints the child, sibling paints another siblings face).
  2. After face painting is complete, allow time at the end to discuss observations you have made throughout the activity and for clients to process their thoughts and feelings from the experience. It may be necessary to allow processing throughout the activity.
  3. Allow 5 minutes for clean-up.

Notes: Clients may look at their face at the end of each turn or once all clients are complete. Allow the clients to make this decision together before beginning.

Generally, I would allow the client who I perceive to have the least power in the relationship to go first.

Clinical Benefits

  1. It allows insight into what motivates a client’s behaviors in a way that may be difficult to gain through traditional talk therapies.
  2. It opens discussion about how a person interacts with family or loved ones, and how they interact in the world.
  3. It can allow clients to begin processing insecurities or areas in which they feel powerless and may assist them with overcoming some of these internal conflicts.
  4. It provides insight into a parent-child relationship. How the parent and child interact, including how they give and take direction from each other. It can allow the therapist and client to see how comfortable parent and child are with giving up control to the other family member.
  5. It is a fun, non-confrontational, creative way for allowing growth to occur.
  6. It can simply be a bonding experience between the parent and child.


When I worked as a child and family therapist, I utilized this face painting activity during a mother daughter session. Initially, my goal was to provide a positive bonding experience for the family. Through the out the activity, it came to light that the mother’s self-consciousness about herself interfered with her willingness to try new things and participate in activities with her daughter. This was a big issue between them because the daughter was not receiving the mother-daughter time she desired. In addition, it helped mom express to her daughter how proud she was that her daughter was so outgoing and confident. Through this activity I was able to assist the family with addressing a core issue within their relationship.

Dragons and Fairies Meet in the Sand

Here’s an excellent article submitted by reader Martha Nodar. Ms. Nodar earned a gift certificate to for her submission. Learn how you can do the same!

Dragons and Fairies: Healing Metaphors

Dragons and fairies are magical, mythological figures which may be used in sandplay as metaphors to represent a sandplayer’s world. Bradway and McCoard (1997) argue that sandplay is about reconciling opposite dynamics, such as a dissonance between feelings or thoughts and behavior. It is through the use of symbols and metaphors that sandplayers may begin to access the material hidden in their unconscious. Sandplay allows for a visual representation of might have been concealed from conscious awareness. Miniature dragons and fairies may provide sandplay therapists with a snapshot into the sandplayer’s psyche, such as deep feelings of loss.



Fairies symbolize creatures of transformation who “reveal themselves intermittently” which “might also be said of the manifestations of the unconscious (Chevalier & Gheerbrant, 1969, p. 370). Unconscious material is typically pushed out of conscious awareness through ego defenses such as denial and repression (Freud, 1966). According to mythology, fairies appear most of the time in the forest. Trees embody many natural, protective elements and also represent the part of the Self that yearns for emotional and physical security (Kalff, 1980). Both the darkness of the forest and the deep roots of the trees symbolize the material believed to be grounded in the unconscious (Chevalier & Gheerbrant, 1969). Chevalier and Gheerbrant (1969) propose that within the realm of psychological development, fairies may represent one’s striving for self-acceptance.


While fairies may be considered a metaphorical bridge between the conscious and the unconscious parts of the psyche, dragons symbolize “the ancient animal nature of the unconscious” (Howe, 2012, p. 344), such as unconscious motivations and reactions. Moreover, Chevalier and Gheerbrant (1969) point to the notion that dragons illustrate the struggles of inner conflicts that most, if not all humans tend to experience, such as wishes that may conflict with one another. With that in mind, Howe (2012) posits that dragons may not only be metaphorically found in the external world as in the case of abusive relationships or bully classmates, but may also be carried internally within one’s psyche, such as in the form of persistent self-reproaches, depression or distorted self-image. Fincher (2009) argues it is important to become aware of the impact the dragon archetype might have in one’s life and suggests the idea of taming the dragon by raising awareness of its existence within oneself. Sandplay paves the way for discovering one’s metaphorical dragon whether it may be external or internal, then, name it and tame it (Fincher, 2009) as the case may be.  

Discovering the Dragon (sandplay activity):


  • Acquire a collection of miniature dragons of different type (wings, no wings, two heads), different color (blue, red, purple) and different size
  • Have the sandplayer select a dragon or draw/color a dragon, then place the drawing in the sand
  • Stay with the metaphor and ask the sandplayer: “If this dragon could speak what would it say?” Observe the sandplayer’s bodily reaction and self-descriptive narrative as he or she gives voice to the dragon
  • Witness the process as the sandplayer decides whether the dragon will be involved with other miniatures, other dragons, and to what extent. Notice the location and size of the other miniatures in relation to the dragon. Is there more than one dragon in the scene?

Stevenson (1994) submits that the color, size, and number of dragons in the scene are important symbolic frames of reference for the sandplay therapist. Stevenson champions drawing and coloring the dragon “as the picture becomes a lens through which the individual can get a new look to the problem” (p. 225). Furthermore, Stevenson argues that dragons are symbols “that represent strong polarities: authority/chaos, wisdom/ignorance, insight/deception, fire/water” (p. 222). Sandplay is the ideal medium through which to explore and eventually reconcile such polarities. That was the case with Randy, a first-grader who used play-fire, water, and dragons in the sand to reconcile his need to have friends versus his unconscious drive to bully them (Howe, 2012).

Randy’s Case:

In her 2012 article, Howe details Randy’s transformation. Randy was a six year-old boy who was brought to play therapy by his parents to treat his tendency for bullying his classmates and disrespecting his teachers. Randy had been placed in the middle of a bitter divorce between his parents since he was a toddler and his acting out came to resemble what he unconsciously perceived to be the dragons in his life (his parents). Randy internalized and adopted the dragon archetype and in turn behaved as a dragon toward his teachers and classmates. Randy’s case illustrates how children may learn to bully from the way they may respond to their own family-of-origin. Howe (2012) refers to the “emotional poverty of hostility” (p. 345) to describe Randy’s isolation from his peers triggered by his bullying. Although Randy wanted to have friends, he was unconsciously driven to act out the rage he felt as the result of his perceived loss of nurturance from his family.

Howe (2012) submits that when one is literally hijacked by anger (which was the case with Randy), it is nearly impossible to consciously recognize at that very moment that one is being driven by one’s unconscious drive to retaliate. Howe approached Randy’s case as a case of wounds that had to be acknowledged to facilitate the healing process. Randy suffered from the loss of emotional nurturance from his parents and the loss of friendship from his peers. Howe determined that Randy’s emotional wounds triggered by his parents’ battles with each other had been buried in Randy’s hostility. Through multiple and consecutive sandplay sessions where miniature figures (dragons and humans) were engaged in horrific battles, Randy was able to visualize and externalize his internal world. Howe was also successful in increasing Randy’s parents’ awareness about their role in Randy’s acting out. With the help of Howe and sandplay therapy, Randy was able to transform acting out into sanding out.


In the world of sandplay, fairies are believed to be symbolic traveling companions into the unconscious and dragons may represent the material found in the shadow side. Bringing dragons and fairies together in the sand is likely to be symbolic of a need to reconcile polarities—the desire and the simultaneous fear to learn about oneself. Randy’s parents had been unaware of how their shadow side had taken over their actions and how it was affecting their son. As it is typically the case, Randy was too young to recognize the role of his family dynamics. With every study we learn more about the potential of sandplay as a medium to provide a safe and protected space under which to express indescribable feelings of loss. Randy’s parents were also experiencing losses—the loss of their marriage and the loss of being spouses to each other. Life is about grieving and managing losses. No one leaves this world without experiencing loss. Sandplay metaphors may act as healing agents in the grieving process.


Bradway, K., & McCoard, B. (1997). Sandplay – silent workshop of the psyche. New York, NY: Rutledge.

Chevalier, J., & Gheerbrant, A. (1969). Dictionary of symbols. Buchanan-Brown, J. (trans.)            (1994). New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Fincher, S. (2009). The mandala workbook: A creative guide for self-exploration, balance, and     well-being. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications.

Freud, A. (1966). The Ego and the mechanisms of defense (rev. edition). Madison, CT: International Universities Press.

Howe, L. (2012). War of the ancient dragon: The transformation of violence in sandplay. Psychological Perspectives, 55, 342-359.

Kalff, D. (1980). Sandplay: A psychotherapeutic approach to the psyche. Santa Monica, CA: Sigo Press.

Stevenson, R. (1994). Dragons as amulets, dragons as talismans, dragons as counselors. Death Studies, 18, 219-228.

Contribute to our blog and get free stuff!

We recently received some great articles from fellow practitioners which you can read below. I’d like to remind our readers that contributing to our blog isn’t just an opportunity to share your hard work with others, it’s also a way to get free stuff at! In fact, the authors of the below articles each earned a $25 gift certificate!

This blog was created as a place for practitioners, or anyone interested in play therapy, to come for news and information relevant to this unique therapeutic method. I also envisioned it as providing a forum for play therapists to share their knowledge, ideas, and experiences.

Send us an idea or intervention that you have developed or used in the play room, and if we publish it to the blog, we’ll send you a $25 gift certificate for

All entries are only accepted by email. Send to

Welcome to our new home!

Welcome to the new home of MyPlayTherapyPage! Our previous hosting company discontinued their services and we had to pack up our posts and relocate. We are in the process of transferring material from the old home to our new digs and appreciate your patience. Stay tuned for lots of great, new play therapy content!

An Affordable Way to Find Items for Your Sand Tray

This article was submitted by Karen Carnabucci, MSS, LCSW, LISW-S.

Are you a sand tray psychotherapist?

Sand tray items can get a little pricy, and rummage sales, yard sales and thrift shops are a good way to find items for your sand tray shelves. I recently found this conglomeration of items at the local Zen center’s annual fundraising center, with the total receipt at just over $5.

Here are lots of other places that I’ve found items for sand tray for low cost or no cost:

  • Stones, seashells and softly worn glass from the beach.
  • Fortune cookie fortunes.
  • Pine cones of various sizes — watch while walking your neighborhood or at the local park.
  • Junk drawer (variety of marbles, small items, lost Legos, old keys, mismatched playing cards and the like).
  • Kitchen drawer (small baskets, small scoops, plastic containers, bottle caps, plastic spoons, Popsicle sticks).
  • Jewelry drawer (look for odd earrings, old pendants, etc., such as hearts, stars and other symbolic items).
  • Sewing kit (old thimbles and darning eggs, buttons).
  • Holiday ornaments and decor that you no longer use (use all or part of item). These might include faux evergreens (take apart to 2-inch lengths to use as bushes), plastic or other kinds of Easter eggs, angel ornaments and Halloween items.
  • Paper umbrellas and plastic picks, saved from tropical drinks, plus chopsticks.
  • Small plastic babies, baskets and other cute party favors from baby and wedding showers.
  • Clearance shelves and racks at department stores, variety stores, rock and gem shops, hobby stores, novelty shops and other shops.
  • “Free” box at yard sales.
  • Small bowl of pennies.
  • Check with children who you know, who outgrow their small toys and other little objects.

The money that you save can be spent for small figures that you do not have at online sand tray stores like Child Therapy Toys.

Unexpected Blessings: Integrating School Counselors and Senior Citizen Volunteers Using CPRT/CSRT

Here’s an excellent article submitted by reader Angela Yoder, PhD. Ms. Yoder earned a gift certificate to for her submission. Learn how you can do the same!

As a young child, I watched my grandmother tirelessly volunteer to help others. She had a profound influence on me as a counselor and human being. I remember the way she communicated that she cared and understood and even as a child, I could see that she had time for me. Her pace of life was different and so were her priorities. She didn’t just glance at me in a rush on her way somewhere else like many adults did. She really saw me. Years later, as I worked with at-risk children, I noticed how many, if not most of them, had no access to the kind of guidance and wisdom I received from my grandmother.

Mary Piper (1994), in her book Reviving Ophelia, notes how society separates its generations: little ones go to preschool, teens go to high school, and elderly folks reside in separate homes and communities. This separation robs each of us of the wisdom, insight, and support of different generations with different perspectives. Today’s retired senior citizens are active, gifted, talented, ready to give back, and many now have the time to pursue the volunteer work they couldn’t manage with a full-time job. Meanwhile, school counselors are overburdened with higher counselor to student ratios, with Illinois’ ratio being 1:672. In 2010, I set out to see if senior citizen volunteers might be able to stand in the gap with school counselors and fill a crucial role by offering volunteer play sessions in the schools.

Given the strong empirical support for adaptations of filial models, including Child-Parent Relationship Therapy (CPRT) (Landreth & Bratton, 2006) for use with teachers, teacher’s aides, and even high school students, I decided to adapt Landreth & Bratton’s CPRT 10 session model for use with senior citizen volunteers. The pilot study started out small, with only 4 volunteers and 4 children, growing to serve 20 children this past year. My research team and I were amazed at how well the volunteers caught on and the skill level they maintained throughout the project. In addition, we were delighted to notice downward trends in the children’s internalizing and externalizing behavioral problems. The children loved working with the seniors and characterized their experiences best with pictures. The picture featured is from a biracial boy who was referred for noncompliance and aggressive behavior. Racial tension was prevalent in both the home and in his classroom and the student’s self-esteem was really suffering. As he progressed in his sessions and changes were made in his classroom environment, he began to improve. This is the picture the boy made for his volunteer at the goodbye party following completion of the study. You will notice that he chose to color them both green and included an “A+” on his work. Previously the boy had reported that he was bad. As encouraging as this type of data were for us, perhaps what surprised us the most was how much the senior volunteers were positively impacted by working with the children.

Camelia, who grew up in the Philippines, reluctantly joined the Child-Senior Relationship Therapy (CSRT) group that was modeled after the CPRT program. She worried that she would not be able to connect with American children and believed she had experienced this problem in the past. Initially, she was concerned that we were going to ask her to falsely praise the children in session so she was delighted to hear about encouraging the effort vs. praising the product. She also later reported that she agreed to participate because I told her she could withdraw her participation at any time. Camelia reported challenges connecting with and understanding her own daughter, having adopted her late in life. Camelia was an eager student of CPRT and each week came back with success stories of how she had utilized these skills with her daughter. Like many retirees, she had a part-time job and worked as an adjunct faculty member at a nearby university. From time to time, she commented on her struggles working with the students.

Camelia was paired with Abby, a child referred for clinginess, loneliness, social problems/isolation, and anxiety. Prior to the referral, Abby’s symptoms had worsened when she found out her mother was planning to remarry and have a baby. She was the only child, but seemed to have a need for attention and care that was like a black hole. Much to Camelia’s surprise, Abby connected easily with her. In many sessions, they could both be heard giggling and genuinely enjoying the company of each other. Camelia began to look for Abby’s feelings and reflect them, communicating Landreth’s “Be with” attitudes of “I hear you. I’m here. I care. I understand.” And Abby ate it up. Her symptoms began improving in the classroom with her teacher reporting less clinginess and whining and improved social skills. Abby learned to find her own voice and cope with her anxieties about the world. In fact, during one session, the lights in the school went out. Camelia skillfully attended to Abby’s fears and they both worked to creatively problem solve by turning on the light in the dollhouse for comfort. On another day, Abby made Camelia a card and taped it on the wall. Camelia remembered to hang the card up each session just for Abby and Abby absolutely delighted in the fact that it was there each and every week. Abby finally felt seen and heard.

Our revelation about the many benefits of the CRST program occurred when Camelia made a surprising disclosure at the end of CSRT group. She had grown up in the Philippines and at age 5 was responsible for watching out for her toddler brother. As many children do at that age, Camelia had become distracted and the boy had her brother wandered off. Living near the water, her parents feared the worst, and having looked unsuccessfully for him for hours, Camelia was severely punished. She tearfully noted that although her brother was later found, it was at that time she began to believe she wasn’t good with children. Her voice quivered as she continued and proudly exclaimed “Now I KNOW I am good with children!” She reported that she utilized the CPRT training beyond the study resulting not only in an improved relationship with her 12 year old daughter, but in improved communication with her students. Camelia noted that using the “be with” attitudes, along with skills of reflection and paraphrase had transformed her teaching and that her teaching evaluations were the best they had ever been. As you might expect, there wasn’t a dry eye in the group.

These unexpected blessings have continued to emerge from our senior volunteers with reports of improved communication skills with friends/family, the excitement of learning something new, a renewed purpose in life, satisfaction of helping others, increase in personal confidence, and the joy and healing which accompanies the unconditional positive regard the children gave to them. One woman put it best by stating “I’m old, white-haired, overweight, and creaky in the knees. But, to her it doesn’t matter. To her, I’m just her friend.”