Play Therapy Themes

Play Therapy Themes

If you’re wondering how play therapists choose their toys, it’s according to these Play Therapy Themes.

It doesn’t matter how many toys you have, but that you have toy in each category. This gives your child a wide toy choice so that they can express what they need to. If you watch carefully, you might also start to notice different play themes coming out in your child’s play. Look for one of these:

Power and Aggression Themes

Good Guy vs. Bad Guy

Aggressor-Victim (Child as Aggressor or Victim)

Generalized Aggression



Power Overcoming Weakness

Seeking Power/Authority/Wisdom


Family Relationship and Nurturance Themes



Nurturing Others


Failed Nurturance

Self-Neglect or Punishment

Lack of Attachment/Detachment



Exits and Entrances to Family System

Control and Safety Themes





Burying or Drowning











Exploration and Mastery Themes

Sensory/Environment Exploration





Interaction Themes

Building Relationship With Adult

General Positive Interactions

General Negative Interactions




Sexualized Play

Sexual Activities

Sexual Behaviors Directed at Adult

Sexual Curiosity

There is so much when it comes to playing. It’s the beginning of a whole new world. Enjoy it, watch carefully and learn about your kiddo!

Currently Reading: Attached

Currently Reading: Attached

I’ve recently been reading Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help you Find – and Keep – Love, and I’ve been inspired by several passages and exercises I want to share with you that could be helpful for your relationships!

“People tend to become more secure when they are in a relationship with someone secure. Security “priming” – reminding people of security enhancing experiences they’ve had – can help them to create a better sense of security”


“Often our relationships with our pets can be a helpful model for how we handle our adult relationships: “They wake us up, destroy our valuables, and demand our undivided attention, yet we tend to overlook their behaviors and feel positively towards them. We can tap into our attitudes toward our pets as a secure resource within us – we don’t assume our pets are doing things purposefully to hurt us, we don’t hold grudges…”

If you can “be inspired by a secure role model in (your) lives, (you) are often successful at adopting secure ways”

“Summarize the characteristics you would like to adopt. This will become your integrated secure role model.”


“In attachment research, ‘working model’ is a phrase that describes our basic belief system when it comes to romantic relationships- what gets you going, what shuts you down, your attitudes and expectations.”

“Research into the molecular mechanism of memory and learning reveals that whenever we recall a scene – or retrieve a certain memory to our conscious mind – we disrupt it, and by doing so, we alter it forever. Our memories are not like old books in the library, lying there dusty and unchanged; they are rather a living, breathing entity.”

“Taking the inventory is a task that should be done alone. Make sure to set aside enough quiet time to work on it thoroughly, so you really get an accurate depiction of yourself from an attachment perspective.

Start by listing in the left hand Column (1), The names of all your romantic partners, past and present. These can include people you’ve dated briefly. We suggest working vertically, one column at a time. Completing the inventory vertically encourages you to focus less on each particular scenario and to achieve an integrated picture of your working model across relationships. The more information you gather, the better.

In Column 2, write what you remember about the relationships; what it was like and what things stand out most when you try to recall your time together. Once you write down your general recollections of the relationship, Column 3 allows you to take a closer look and identify specific scenarios that contribute to activation/deactivation of your attachment system.

Column 4 asks how you respond to these situations. What did you do? What were you thinking? How did you feel? The lines below the inventory are provided to help you recall those reactions.

Column 5 is a crucial next step. You will need to reassess these experiences from an attachment perspective to gain insight into the issues that affected your relationships. What attachment issues affected your reactions: Protest behavior? Deactivation? Refer to the lists as a guide.

In Column 6, you’re asked to consider ways in which your reaction – now translated into attachment principles – hurts you and gets in the way of your happiness.

Finally, Column 7 prompts you to consider new secure ways of handling these situations using a security-enhancing role. In your life and the secure principles we outline in this book…”



Finding a Good Divorce Therapist for your Family

Finding a Good Divorce Therapist for your Family

A Divorce Therapist turned us away? Why? When we clearly need help!

It’s confusing and frustrating when you can see that your child needs emotional support and yet you can’t find a divorce therapist to work with you. You’re in the throws of a divorce, and life is already challenging enough, without someone turning you away. So why don’t therapists agree to see you right away, and why are they so specific in wanting to set things up in a specific way?

 1. Consent to treatment

A Marriage and Family Therapist in California cannot legally treat your child without your parental consent. When you are married, the consent of one parent works, though in my opinion no therapist should be working with a child before meeting both parents. It’s a matter of respect, and of understanding who your child is in the context of your family. When you are separating or divorcing, the matter of consent can change. Most often parents who are divorcing, will share legal custody, but not always. A therapist can’t take your word for this, but will need to see court documents to understand who has the legal right for your child to enter treatment.

2. Creating a safe and healing environment for your child, means not alienating either of the parents

Even when you have legal consent, it’s good practice for the therapist to at least try to obtain consent from both parents. If a therapist meets with your child, and your ex finds out that it was done behind their back without their permission, they will likely be upset, and will not view the therapist is trustworthy.

Consider for a moment how you would feel, if a therapist met with your child, and you not only had NO idea that this meeting was taking place, but the therapist didn’t once contact you to introduce themselves, and to invite you to be a part of the process. It’s alienating!

A therapist meeting with the child without letting both parents know, is alienating that parent. This is likely to undermine the child’s therapy in various ways. Firstly, the therapist has taken sides, and will not be considered credible if they ever go to court on your behalf. Secondly, without hearing from both parents, it’s harder for the therapist to understand the environment your child is a part of, and understanding who your child is, is a big part of therapy. Thirdly, if the parents aren’t in agreement about parenting decisions, then presumably your child is already caught in the middle, and feeling this stress.

The whole point initiating therapy is to give your child a neutral, and a safe space, where they can process their pain. 

Now imagine this child is introduced to a neutral, safe space of a comforting play therapy office and starts a relationship with a therapist, with whom they bond, and then they are pulled out of treatment or are conflicted about being there. This is likely to happen when the excluded parent gives the child negative messages about therapy. The child feels guilty about being in treatment, they know their parent doesn’t want them there, and they feel confused about trusting the therapist. Now there is nothing that the therapist can do. The therapist rushed into treating the child, without first trying to get both parents on board, and is now stuck.

 3. Ways to Move Foward

Understand that the therapist is doing what is in the child’s best interest, by trying to get the buy in from both parents. Give the therapist a little time to reach out to your ex, and to try to get their permission. If this doesn’t happen, know that in your court proceedings, you can ask the court to rule on this. In the meantime, there is nothing stopping you from seeking treatment, from getting parenting support. The therapist can work with your child indirectly, by giving you the resources to make a difference in their life. Remember that you have the stronger relationship with your child, and that you can be the one to help them with their adjustment.


It’s excruciating to need help, and to feel turned away. Try to imagine how you would feel if someone took your child to a doctor for you, and then the doctor refused to talk with you, and to let you know what was going on. How would you react in this situation? Your ex is likely to do the same, and this simply makes an already difficult situation more contentious, and the person who will feel it the most, is your child. Understand that the therapist needs to remain neutral, and to be available for your child. By setting up a structure with boundaries, might mean you have to wait a little for treatment, but it’s ultimately in the best interest of the family well-being. At the end of the day, your child needs both parents in their life (unless a parent is abusive and dangerous). If your divorce is contentious, the therapist might have a chance to bring you into a co-parenting relationship during this process of tapping into the concern and love you both feel for your child’s well-being.

Therapy for Children of Divorce and Remarriage- Part 2

Therapy for Children of Divorce and Remarriage- Part 2

What will the long-term impact of divorce be on my child?

When you are considering getting a divorce, you want to know what the impact of this decision will be on your children. As a parent, this will be one of the most challenging decisions to make. My guess is that you are existing in an unhealthy marriage, and you want out; and yet are wanting to protect your children from the negative effects of divorce. It’s a difficult decision for a parent to make, especially at time when you are in a place of pain. Here are the important things to consider as you decide what to do, about how badly your child will be impacted by your divorce.

There are researchers and authors who have presented arguments for each side: the perspective that children are damaged by divorce, and the other perspective that children are resilient and won’t have long term difficulties after divorce. Having read a lot of their work, I have come to value the words of Emery who said: Well the truth lies in the middle.


Here are three things to consider that impact how your children will adjust to your divorce:

1. Consider the beginning:

For most children, the first two years will be difficult. There is much to grieve and there are transitions to move through. Long-term, research shows that with good support, 80% of children of divorce have no bigger psychological problems than other children. You can help your children to get through this difficult initial grieving phase.

2. Risk and protective factors:

There are things you can do that will make the adjustment more stressful, and other things that will protect your child from distress. The protective factors include your child having strong relationships with others and particularly with positive adult models. Providing a stable home environment with structure is another protective factor, along with being able to give your child a realistic explanation for the reason for the divorce. You can teach your child good coping skills, but you need to be doing ok emotionally, in order to do so. The risk factors in divorce include children blaming themselves for the divorce, ongoing high-conflict between parents, and when children find themselves in the middle of fighting parents. Other risk factors include parents not being emotionally available to children, and when there is instability in the environment.

3. Resources:

Sometimes it’s hard to sift through all the information out there in a time when you are in crisis. There are so many resources available, varying from support groups for adults and children, to informational sessions hosted in the community, to books for adults, parents and kids. Visit some of these support groups, so that you can hear how other parents are coping.

Making the decision to get divorced is very difficult, but whether or not your child will be able to adjust, is not the question. We know that children are resilient with the right kind of support. So, if you are going to go ahead with this, consider getting support so that you can be a resource to your child, to help them adjust in healthy ways.

There is no easy answer, instead one can only trust that the process of grieving and of guidance seeking, will bring clarity. Consider waiting until you are sure, to share the news with your child, otherwise they will be suspended in transition alongside you, for a long time, without answers.

If you are not aware of the resources in San Diego, or feel you need extra support in making this decision, or explaining it to your children, give me a call and I’d be happy to help.

Therapy for Children of Divorce and Remarriage- Part 1

Therapy for Children of Divorce and Remarriage- Part 1


I’ve decided to take a season and dedicate my next blogs to focus on divorce and changing families. There is such a need in San Diego County to support families who are changing in their structure. Over the last three years I am getting more and more calls from families in San Diego who need guidance. Most often I get the call once the divorce is in process. Parents are concerned about their children’s reactions: anger outbursts, problems at school, separation anxiety and acting out at home. When children are under stress, it shows up in their behavior, and parents get worried. Divorce brings loss and change on many levels, and it takes time for everyone in the family, to adjust to this.

I am teaching a class at UCSD in the Play Therapy Certificate Program on families who are changing due to divorce and remarriage. As I have prepared for this class, I have been reading many of the texts, books and research articles on this topic. With my experience in my own personal life, and in my professional practice, it is a privilege to help to equip parents to go through this difficult journey, being as prepared as possible. If you are professional working with children, come and take this class to get up to date on how to work with families that are impacted by divorce and by remarriage.

The image that comes to mind for me, when I think about divorce, is that of a lego construction that is being broken to the ground. There are lots of little pieces left lying on the ground. The tragedy is that the family that once was, is no more.

The opportunity, is that with time, something new will be built, and a family has lots of control over what the new construction will look like.


In today’s world, there are lots of different kinds of family structures. It’s difficult to say goodbye to what once was, but it is important to know that there will be a new reality, and that there are important building blocks that make the difference in what will be.

There are many resources available in San Diego for families adjusting to divorce. Much research has been done around the world to support parents, and so we know how to guide you through these changes. It would be ideal to equip yourself with this information before you share the news of divorce with your children, so that you know what matters in breaking the news, know how to support them, and know what factors will make a difference in their recovery.

Read my next couple blogs for some tips and facts, or come and see me so that I can guide you through this time.

Let’s Talk: Vulnerability

Let’s Talk: Vulnerability

We all get into these patterns of disconnection. Underneath our defensive strategies, we are just feeling hurt and afraid as humans. This is universal in all human nature. These softer and deeper feelings can take two forms, either fearing abandonment, or fearing rejection.

Abandonment might sound like: I’m alone, uncared for, unseen, I don’t get responded to.
Rejection might sound like: I’m criticized, I’m inadequate, I’m failing, I’m unwanted.

When we are hurt and fearful at such a deep level, it’s very difficult to reach out and admit this. To actually share this with one another, takes tremendous courage. Of course, when we are feeling abandoned or rejected, we don’t want to take a risk and then be dropped even more.

It feels counterintuitive to give this advice, but it’s one of those universal truths. If you take the risk and share these deeper, submerged feelings, most often, you will get a supportive response. The Latin word for vulnerability means to wound. So to open yourself up in this way, instead of putting on your armor, means you open yourself up to getting hurt. Your partner will see this, and will see the tremendous gift you are giving them in digging up these difficult-to-reveal feelings, and offering them open hands, open heartwhite flag, to them in the process.

Take a chance this week, and when you feel yourself getting hurt or afraid, let your partner know that you are having a hard time.
Tell your partner that you have got a deeper response going on inside of you, that might be hard to share, but that you are deeply impacted by what is happening between the two of you, when you feel so disconnected from each other.

Couples Image by The Kitcheners: