By David A. Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP
Readers who have followed my writing
know that I use the heart symbol frequently in my work because it has
been a potent symbol in cultures around the world throughout the ages.
For many the heart symbolizes love, for others passion, or the emotional
center of the person. Among the strategies previously described are the
Heartfelt Feelings Strategies (Goodyear-Brown, 2002; Riviere, 2005;
Crenshaw, 2008) and the Heartfelt Feelings Coloring Card Strategies
(Crenshaw, 2008). The strategies below build on the previous ones by
using the heart shape in symbol therapy work.
I collect hearts of a wide variety of shape and colors and materials at
novelty shops. My collection consists of plastic, felt, and various
glass and gem stone materials. I find that children are fascinated by
the beauty and variety of the hearts in the collection. I keep the
hearts in a leather-bound and velvet lined jewelry box that adds further
mystique and value to the collection as perceived by the children.
The Velvet-Lined Box of
Purpose: To create and expand on a
potentially healing therapeutic dialogue about important losses and
disappointments in the child’s life.
Materials: A collection of hearts in a
leather bound and velvet-lined jewelry box.
Directions: The child is asked to pick
from a collection of hearts in a leather bound and velvet-lined jewelry
box a heart that symbolizes someone important whom they miss—someone
they don’t see at all (a person who died or someone who moved away) or
someone they don’t see as often as they wish. They can pick more than
one heart to represent each of the persons they are missing.
On inquiry, the child is asked to tell
why they picked that particular heart for each of the persons they are
missing, and to talk about that important person who is presently
missing from their life.
The Circle of
Purpose: To identify and create
dialogue about the family and interpersonal resources the child can draw
on in times of crisis or emotional vulnerability.
Materials: Same as above.
Directions: The child is instructed to
pick a heart from the velvet-lined box of hearts to represent the self.
Then the children are asked to pick a heart for every person that loves
them. These hearts are arranged in a circle around the heart they have
picked for self. If children are unable to make a full circle of people
who love them, they then should be directed to place also in the
surrounding circle a heart representing friends, peers or adults who
care about them or support them. If they are still unable to complete
the circle the children can be asked to pick a heart to represent people
who they would like to be able to turn to for love and support.
As with all of my strategies that are
evocative of emotion, sometimes quite powerful emotions, only the
clinician working with the child or family or group of children (in
group therapy or art therapy) can decide if such a strategy would be
appropriate for a given client(s) at a particular time. Obviously,
timing and pacing are critical factors in clinical decision making, as
well as a thorough understanding of the child’s level of functioning at
any one point in time, including the ability to tolerate anxiety and
emotional distress. The level of external stress in the child’s life at
the given point of time also needs to be considered. It is impossible to
overemphasize the factor that repeatedly has been demonstrated
empirically to have the most bearing on psychotherapy outcome, the
quality and strength of the therapeutic alliance. It is important to
realize that the tools I have introduced to child and family therapy are
just what the name implies—they are tools but not the therapy itself.
They are techniques that can be used by child and family therapists who
adhere to a wide range of theoretical orientations, including but not
limited to cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychoanalytic and
psychodynamic approaches, Jungian, play therapy, gestalt therapy,
narrative therapy, solution-focused therapy, family systems therapy, and
art therapy. The ultimate goal is to expand emotionally meaningful and
heart-centered dialogue with the child, family, or group that I believe
contributes to the healing process.
Brown Goodyear, P. (2002). Digging for
buried treasure. Antioch, TN: Paris Goodyear Brown.
Crenshaw, D. A. (2008). Therapeutic
Engagement of Children and Adolescents: Play, Symbol, Drawing, and
Storytelling Strategies. Lanham, MD: Jason Aronson/An Imprint of Rowman
& Littlefield Publishers.
Riviere, S. (2005). Play therapy to
engage adolescents. In L. Gallo-Lopez and C. E. Schaefer, eds., Play
therapy with adolescents, 2nd ed. (pp.121-142). Lanham,
MD: Jason Aronson/Rowman & Littlefield.
Copyright © 2008 by David A.
Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP. All rights reserved.