Book Review: Aggression in Play Therapy by Lisa Dion

Lisa Dion's new book Aggression in Play Therapy debuted at #1 in the Psychotherapy Charts (woohoo Lisa!) and for good reason.   I provide my honest, unpaid, and unbiased opinion about the book today.  

Why I Put Off Reading This Book 

Authenticity is the name of the game when it comes to Lisa Dion.  So, I can't provide an authentic review of the book without first admitting that I put off reading it for over a month after I ordered it.

Why?

Honestly, because I read Lisa's first book "Integrating Extremes: Aggression and Death in the Playroom" in 2015 (ish) and knew that she covered some of the same topics in the new book. 

Two huge errors occurred in my thinking about this book:

  1. The belief that I remembered everything I read the first time around and felt I may be tempted to skim through the new book.
  2. The worry that the things I did remember (and frequently explained to other therapists) were actually not correct and that I would realize that I have been explaining Lisa's theories wrong for years. 

Lisa doesn't directly address my second worry. However, she does acknowledge (in the introduction) that parts of the first book are included, but that this new book is filled with so much more. 

And I have to agree. 

Once I Started Reading, I Could Not Put It Down

So, after I finally started reading Lisa's book, I could not put it down.  I devoured it in two days, and have two pages of notes so that I can easily reference some of the most important topics at a later date.

To say it is a "fast-read" oversimplifies the concepts that are addressed.  

Yes, I read it in a very short period of time.  

But I actually took some time to do the reflective exercises that were included.  And I knew that we were going to be discussing it in my free play therapy book club.  So I wasn't just skimming it to say I was finished.  I really wanted to make sure that I integrated what I was reading to be prepared for the discussion.

*Side note: that is why I have a book club.  Because it keeps me accountable to finish the books I buy and it gives me a chance to process them with my colleagues so that I can remember more of what I read.  Find out more about the book club here. 

What I Learned From "Aggression in Play Therapy"

First, my worry that I had been explaining everything wrong was mostly unfounded.  I had, in fact, remembered a good deal of information correctly.  But, there was more depth that I was missing!

I couldn't tell you which parts of the book were old and which parts were new exactly. Some of the case examples sounded familiar, but I enjoyed hearing them again from the point of view of my experiences in the past three years. 

Here are some big takeaways from the book: 

If You Are Exhausted...You Are Not Alone

As a play therapist, I love working with children.  I really love my clients and care about them deeply.  But, the reality is that sometimes the weight of the trauma that children experience and the intensity of their play becomes exhausting- both physically and emotionally.

This book explains WHY this happens to us and provides tools on how to keep it from happening. 

The message is that you are not alone in feeling overwhelmed (at times) during play sessions.  This is an expected response. 

But you can do something about it.  You will learn what to do about it when you read the book. 

Learn How to Fight (and Die) Well

One of my favorite parts of the first book was the information on how to die well in play sessions.

Thankfully, that information is included again here.  

Also included are specific strategies for sword-fighting that include both practical (what materials make the best swords) and the theoretical (about why certain things happen during a fight). 

You will never look at sword fights the same way again. 

Also included are practical points about "the set-up"; about setting boundaries without creating shame, attachment, windows of tolerance, mindfulness, and involving parents in the play therapy sessions.  

There is a lot of information covered in these 200+ pages. 

The Nervous System 101

The subtitle of the book is "A neurobiological approach for integrating aggression". So it only makes sense that there would be a significant amount of attention paid to the brain, the nervous system, and the body.

Lisa Dion has this great ability to break down complex ideas about the nervous system into easy to digest bits of information that I can understand and use.

If you have a good grasp of all things neuroscience and brain-related, you will find this information a good review.  For you folks, there is more detailed information so that you can take what you already know and apply these new concepts to it.  

If you are not familiar with polyvagal theory, for example, this book will give you a working knowledge and understanding, and probably fuel your need to learn even more. 

You've Got to Feel It

A lot of what is discussed in this book is technical neuroscience. 

There are excellent examples of observational statements, tracking statements, and reflections that a therapist might make during a session to guide your practice.

But, my favorite parts of the book are the references to notice what is happening in the room with the child.  

Notice what is happening within your own body during play sessions. And notice what is happening with your child client in the moment.

In this way,  the information isn't just a "do this, not that" manual. It is a permission slip to embrace what you notice in the room and trust your instincts in the moment.

We need to stop trying to figure everything out in the playroom and begin to feel what is happening. I tell my students to get out of their heads and get into their bodies. Through your body, you will be able to access all the information necessary to facilitate what is needed in that moment."  - Lisa Dion, Aggression in Play Therapy, pg. 62

Final Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed the book.  I feel like this is a good book for any mental health professional working with children.  lt is written in a way that beginning clinicians can understand, but also in a way that seasoned clinicians may begin to rethink some of their "tried and true" principles for play therapy sessions.  

Have you read Lisa's book? Let me know what you thought about it in the comments!  And if you really want to take our discussion to the next level, come learn with Lisa Dion at the Hawaii Play Therapy Retreat this summer. (And bring your book...maybe she will sign it for you!)

Want to be part of my next book club discussion? Join our club here

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About the Author Jen Taylor

Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at info@jentaylorplaytherapy.com

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