Sanctuary Counseling, LLC.
Douglassville: 610.385.3155 Audubon: 610.850.8009

Fantasy and Dreams Don’t Die After Childhood: the Nature of Expressive Arts

When people ask me to explain how play therapy for children is supposed to be similar to talk therapy for adults, I find myself drawn to explain how intuition develops with age. Do you remember nostalgic days of recess playgrounds and backyard pretend? When kids are roleplaying superheroes or re-enacting scenes from their favorite movies, it’s easy to say as an adult “wow my kid really wants to be like Elsa”, when it’s more accurate to say “right now, they are Elsa”. If you’ve ever acted in a theater class or have watched a play, you probably already know about suspension of disbelief. It’s the point where we can “turn off” being analytical to just stay in the present and bear witness to something very human. That state of mind is what I’m confident is to say is a human need, if not the beating heart of the humanities.

Kids live in that world. The purpose of play therapy is to basically give fresh canvases to people who are basically spinning engines (sometimes literally) of art and creativity. My role as a therapist here, is to step more into being the narrator or the audience beholding some new work, and to reflect back what we see from the young artist in the room. And yes, this also totally happens during board games. Sometimes, I bear witness to kids sabotaging a board game so they don’t win, because they don’t want the game to end (“I want everything to be fair! All the time! Forever!”). Sometimes, I bear witness to a tea party where the poor host is getting burnt out trying to serve tea to someone who snubs them ruthlessly (“If I do this for her, then maybe she’ll notice me, someday…”). Sometimes, I witness royalty build the castle walls higher and higher, hoping to both fortify a tower so mighty only to recognize if they move slightly the pillows they’ve used will cause their fortress to crumble (“I need to be safe! It’s too uncomfortable out there!!”). Each of these is a conversation, and sometimes my role is to bear witness to it in enough ways that we can notice more of the story happening live, together.

This process is identical when I work with adults who are creative. I’m always eager to see people’s sketchbooks if they are willing to invite me into bearing witness to it. Sometimes, motifs and patterns emerge visually. Someone who draws the mysterious character whose left eye can never be seen. Someone who finds themselves drawn to always include red-violet somewhere in their work. Someone who would punch clay to make a mold of their fist to then fire it and then adorn it with floral patterns. The goal is the same. We live in this world to make meaning, somewhere. Some meanings are more obvious than others, but the journey of having the conversation together as artist and audience is what makes these forms of art expressive art.

All of this I believe pays greater service to how we nurture intuition. I can only speak to this rooted in the context of the time of this writing, but culturally the more we value what is directly measureable, the more we feel drawn to “prove”. I think this grinds against some of the deeper value of the work. Therapeutically when we have to access intuition, the purpose isn’t to immediately “fix” something. What is there to fix? The art and expression above already exist in the world. In these moments, it’s more about bearing witness or companioning the work to honor it, or being the keeper of a story.

Whether as an adult or child, the way we express ourselves deserves to be honored and heard. Ultimately, it’s a human need that, when met, allows us to reflect and become something more. And to be candid, takes a big leap of trust! That’s why a lot of our most important depth thoughts about ourselves, or works-in-progress, are rightfully worth protecting while they sleep.

I also don’t think the conversation necessarily stops here! If this resonated, I’d love to hear what came up for you. I can be reached at timothy@sanctuarycounseling.com.

Change is Coming: How to Cope with the New

“Change is good”
“Change is inevitable”
“Change is necessary”
“Change of heart” “Change of pace” “Change of scene”
“The more things change, the more they stay the same”

I could list dozens of idioms in our lexicon that tell us how important change is. “We should expect it, we should like it, and we should roll with it,” is what they seem to boil down to.
As someone who loves a schedule, a list, and some structure, change is something that gets a side-eye from me. Nine times out of ten, the changes that pass through my life end up working out for the better, I just haven’t been able to get through my head that I don’t have to panic every time it comes. (I love the comfort that comes with knowing what is down the road and what to expect).

However, change doesn’t always need to be tied to panic and discomfort; change can sometimes bring unexpected happiness. It might be just what we’re needing without even knowing it.

The transition from grade school to high school; the transition from high school to college; the transition from college to “real life,” starting a new job. These changes are inevitable and necessary. And I survived them all. Who knew? I certainly didn’t at the time.
I was nervous each time I had to adapt, adjust, and grow comfortable with my new reality. Often when something new and different came along, I would brace myself for disaster (because I am wired that way!). Sometimes I would go in with low expectations so that I wouldn’t be disappointed or overwhelmed. And that is not great either.

The thing is, it didn’t matter whether I was prepared or disappointed, excited or scared.
Change was a’comin anyway.
What mattered was how I responded and reacted to these changes.

If I was nervous or scared, did I react as the situation deserved, or did I panic and shut down? If I was excited or prepared, did I get my hopes up too high? There is a balance to be found in all of this, and it seems that it’s something that will always be in flux.
Some helpful ways to cope with change are to engage in some mindfulness practices.
One specific tool is to utilize a deep breathing exercise when we find the panic and anxiety too much to manage. Simply find a comfortable space, take a few deep breaths, and follow a simple breathing pattern focused around breathing for 4 second intervals. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, and hold the breath for 4 seconds. Repeat these four times through, and your brain and body will thank you!
Another helpful tool is to engage in some imagery, picturing what things in your life will remain constant. When change is on the horizon, it can be easy to get caught up in all the things that will be new and different, but many cornerstones and important aspects of life remain the same. Feeling grounded in what is and will continue to be can help us feel that the changes are less overwhelming.
So, don’t fear change; try to prepare for it.
Do what you can to be ready, and let life happen as it must.

Change is making its way to Sanctuary. We are constantly growing, and with that must come change. Sanctuary went from a small office in Douglassville to the house we are in now, many years ago. Then we added a second site in Collegeville. Our Collegeville location will soon make that same transition from a small office to a new house in Audubon.
And while this is a big change, it is one we are so ready for. We are expanding our hours as well as our space. We are taking on new clients and clinicians. We must rise to the challenge and face these changes with open arms, because they are necessary, and they are good. Good for us and good for you, as we welcome a new chapter in the Sanctuary story.

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