My Mom Is A Play Therapist

Let’s welcome back our guest blogger Theresa Fraser as she interviews an accomplished adolescent and how her mother’s profession has impacted her outlook on life!

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I had the pleasure of interviewing the daughter of a colleague. I need to add that this colleague and I have been distance friends for over 7 years and our common passion began with sandtray therapy.  We live in two different countries and only met face to face a month ago when we both had the pleasure of presenting together at the Expressive Arts Summit in NYC. We were on Broadway together but it felt like we had spent lots of time together before.

Over the years we have talked about our children and mused that there has not been much written nor  presented on the view of the clinician from their child’s perspective. Some might think that the life of a play therapist’s child is full of fun and the powers of play. Many of the children that I have talked to agree that they have parents who are fun but also that they have parents whom help them to see the world in a different way.

Introducing Gabby Van Hollander

I interviewed Gabby Van Hollander.  She is a lively young adult in high school in the state of Pennsylvania. She is an amazing photographer. She is well spoken and confident and she presented as being at ease as soon as we began our phone interview. She talked about her college choices and her hope that she will get an acceptance package from her first choice soon.

I then asked her about other activities. Not only is she successful in school but has been part of a community group entitled: buildOn. This non-profit group (https://www.buildon.org/) believes that “education is a basic right and recognizes that children who live in poverty are the least likely to attend school,” (https://www.buildon.org/about/the-education-crisis/).  Ms. Van Hollander has traveled with a youth team to Haiti to assist in building schools. She is currently fundraising to participate in a similar trip to Nicaragua (https://act.buildon.org/fundraiser/1180845?is_new=true).  Additionally, she is engaged in weekend events such as helping the homeless, often packaging and delivering foods for a local Jewish Relief Agency, park clean ups, as well as helping out at other community events, etc. Helping others is a lifetime value.

Adolescent Struggles

We then talked about issues that may be impacting her peers currently.  Ms. Van Hollander attends an AP school, which has undergraduate courses that are managed by the College Board.  Students complete the curriculum, take an exam and then obtain dual high school/college credit. Ms. Van Hollander identified that she is aware how stressed some of her peers are. They feel pressure to be successful in all that is required to get into college however, given it is their final year, Ms. Van Hollander indicated that she believes peers are recognizing that in their final year they need to have some fun too.

It was clear that Ms. Van Hollander could identify teachers that were able to help students regulate their emotions, practice mindfulness and balance their responsibilities to ensure that they were taking time for self-care not just in their final year but also as self care strategies. I asked Ms. Van Hollander if she notices when peers are struggling.  She was able to reflect on this before answering that she recognizes when those around her may be having a hard time. Not surprisingly, she often recognizes this when others (including adults) don’t.

I then asked if she finds sometimes that it is hard to stop thinking of the vulnerable after she has been supportive. She was able to identify that it depends on how personally she is involved with them. However she is able to:

  • give herself credit when she feels that she has thought of everything she can do to help them
  • she recognizes that she needs to put herself first.
  • she knows that once she is done, she is done
  • next time she sees them she can ask how they are
  • if they aren’t a prominent part of her life she can put the experience aside.

These are wise words for a 18 year old and healthy practices that sometimes emerging play therapy students need to be reminded of.

This interview helped me to reflect on what in our conversation resonated with the verbalized experiences of my own children.  It isn’t always easy to have a parent that is a psychotherapist /play therapist. Dinnertime conversations can include topics such as informed consent and oppression. I am blessed with nine children. Each with their own history and experiences (some more complex than others). Ms. Van Hollander reminded me of three of our children who are intuitively supportive and insightful with others – irrespective of age. They are the ones that their friends gravitate towards when they need to process emotional issues. They recognize energy when they walk into a room and they stand up for those who sometimes need voice. These children however, are vulnerable to the same ills that we as clinicians are. They almost through osmosis pick up on intuition/ energy and play skills.  It is my belief that a seasoned Play Therapist not only practice evidenced based interventions in the play therapy room but also lives these outside of the play therapy room. There is energy to the Therapeutic powers of play and kids know it when they see it.

The Challenge

I challenge you to think   about these following questions:

 How has being a Play Therapist impacted your parenting?

  1. How has being a Play Therapist impacted your parenting?
  2. How has being a Play Therapist impacted your child’s ability to communicate,   creatively problem solve and empathize with others?
  3. How often do we teach our children the safe and effective use of self, so they learn emotional safety skills in addition to the other self protective skills we teach them.

We consciously teach our children interactional and relational skills but they also inherit skills (almost through osmosis) or is it indirect teaching?  Many children of therapists are skilled at picking up on situations and feelings. Therefore, as their parents, we need to be intentional about how we teach them to also protect themselves emotionally.

Lastly, Ms. Van Hollander verbalized something my children have often said. Their parents are fun. They have cool offices and bring fun play tools home often. We just also have to remember to play more with our children, even though we may have done it all day at that place called an office. You don’t want your child asking you as one of mine did one day, “ When do I get to be the client- Mommy?”.

For me, I hope that one day I get to meet Ms. Van Hollander face to face. Maybe, (like when I met her mom) it will also be on Broadway.

PS. If anyone has the interest in supporting a young woman in raising money for the Nicaragua buildOn trip, the link that follows is helpful. https://act.buildon.org/fundraiser/1180845?is_new=true
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Theresa Frasier

Ms. Frasier is a Play Therapist Supervisor in Canada who wears many hats. She is well known for her work with folks who experience complex trauma and grief and loss. She is launching a web based sandtray training in early 2018. www.changingsteps.ca

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

2 thoughts on “My Mom Is A Play Therapist”

  1. Danielle Holloway

    Wow! Thank you so much for such a fantastic, down to earth and transparent article on the life of a child of a Child Play Therapist. Ms. Van Hollander sounds like an amazing young lady. With the path that she is on, we can count on her to be in the running for the next president! Joking aside, listening to your interview with her makes me wonder if she was destined to do these things? Was in innate in her nature? Was it the affluent school she attends? Was it her mother’s influence, or perhaps her father, or both? This is where parenting gets sticky for me. Why are some kids raised with such amazing opportunities, and others are not, yet some of the children from the “are not” category will still continue on to be and do amazing and magical things. While others, from the “amazing opportunities” side, may not? Is what they are doing as an adult a matter of interpretation? Just a thought. Thank you again for the amazing article.

  2. Love this post! I was just talking to someone the other day about my 11 year old son’s ability to empathize with others so well at such a young age. Guess it makes sense considering he is a therapist’s child!

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