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Hakomi: Working with the Inner Child, Part 2

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By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

“Sometimes the child emerges at a distance. It comes as an image of a child. A client may report seeing herself as a child or remembering herself as a child,” which may indicate that she’s not “ready to actually experience the child” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 133-134). If so, then you can ask the client’s adult aspect to talk with the child to share what’s happening.

“When the image of the child appears at a distance, it may also be that the person doesn’t want to own that child, or hates the child, hates that part of herself. It’s important, then, to try a dialogue and eventual reunion with the child” (p. 134). One of Ron Kurtz’s clients made it clear that she preferred to keep her child buried, so he did an experiential exercise called “taking over” by having her try reaching out for it while he held her back.

While someone may intensely dislike her inner child, others may overvalue or be overidentified with it. “Even though child states can be problematic and limiting, it is possible to celebrate their positive origins and protective intent” (Morgan, 2015, p. 207). Assisting “the child aspects of the client to grow and become embodied and integrated with the functioning adult self, the therapist needs to” be sure that the client’s observer adult witness part is also there along with the child, so they are not overly identified with the child (p. 208). Grief around one’s losses needs to occur in addition to experiences of acceptance and self-love that are given and received in the present (Stark, 1994).

Mindfulness, as developed in Hakomi training, and with clients in psychotherapy, assists with the awareness of the adult witness and disidentification from wounded, desperate child aspects. “With the witness present, a therapist and client can be with intense longings, evaluate potential nourishment, and notice when the nourishment is accepted at a deep level” (Morgan, 2015, p. 208).

“The core beliefs of the child are held in state-specific consciousness and are usually not available in ordinary awareness. They are available in the state in which they were first learned. For transformation to occur, the client needs to be present with his or her child consciousness, so that these early beliefs can be fully accessed and processed” (p. 210). While “it is possible to do useful work with the child and core beliefs from the place of ordinary consciousness”, it won’t “have the same impact as working directly with the child state” (p. 210).

“The child is often accessible when a memory arises in the client. The therapist can expand the memory a little by asking for the age and setting while tracking emotional and bodily expression and accessing felt sense” (p. 210). He may use a probe or a contact statement like, “Your child is here now, huh(?).”

Ron Kurtz had the gift of being able to be “a magical stranger to the inner child” in an age-appropriate and nourishing way (p. 211). Going into the magical stranger mode and offering a “missing experience” can be quite powerful for a client. A therapist can become an unfamiliar, kind person who travels back in time and who can interact with the “frozen” child, providing novel and more corrective emotional experiences that were missing from earlier in life (Morgan, 2015).

Here are some guidelines for working with the inner child:

  1. Recognize the child as she appears in session by changes in voice, expression, posture, and so forth.
  2. Be interested in that child; hold the experience in present time.
  3. Acknowledge and validate the child’s experience directly.
  4. Talk directly to the child in simple, age-appropriate language. Attune carefully, maintaining tracking and contact.
  5. Ask the adult self for comments on how the child is responding in the moment and to nourishment.
  6. Check out feelings of the adult toward the child. If they are negative, there is a critical, defensive part present who is not able to show understanding and compassion toward the child. This part can be brought to the client’s consciousness.
  7. Encourage the child to name and express feelings and perceptions.
  8. In the case of overwhelming emotions, allow for some distance to the child part (e.g., imagining placing it far away or behind a window).
  9. Find out the meaning the child placed in the early situation.
  10. Let the child articulate her needs.
  11. Ask the compassionate adult self what the child needs to hear or know.
  12. Support emotional expression, as indicated.
  13. Be real, realistic, and genuine toward the child.
  14. Remember child-type thinking processes—magical, egocentric.
  15. Remember that the child is the map maker, forming the core models of self and the world used throughout life.
  16. Be attentive, validating, playful, compassionate, and creative, just as one would with a real child in the room. Draw on experiences with actual children. Adapt language and tone of voice according to what is age-appropriate (p. 213-214). 

Note: This post is Part 2 of Hakomi: Working with the Inner Child.

To learn more about Hakomi, please follow the tag #hakomi


Kurtz, R. S. (1990). Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: Liferhythm Press.

Morgan, M. (2015). Child States and Therapeutic Regression. H. Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (p. 203-216). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Stark, M. (1994). Working with resistance. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson. 

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Keeping a Daily Routine in the “New Normal”

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By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

As the COVID-19 pandemic persists and our days working from home push into the latter half of the year, the “new normal” constantly referenced still doesn’t feel so normal. While for some, quarantine seems almost like a vacation due to the varying amounts of convenience offered from working in the comforts of one’s own home. Even so, it’s important to consider what we want to have accomplished after these many months. Staying on top of things by maintaining a daily routine offers a shot at a sense of normalcy and certainty.

Many have been anxious and stressed due to quarantine, and establishing daily routines brings about a sense of order and focus. Simple activities such as making your bed, applying perfume, and working out remind us that life goes on despite all circumstances (Rivers). The pandemic is not here to stay forever; all things pass in a matter of time. Being prepared to operate as normal, whether social distancing or not, is a crucial aspect of maintaining one’s wellness. Continuing to clean, dress for work, and call people regularly helps fight the lonely and dreadful nature of our extended time indoors (Krans). Most days are the same. Time has grown increasingly difficult to keep track of. Keeping up with daily activities and adhering to a healthy, regular sleep schedule allows us to keep track of each day’s progression.

The more quarantine interrupts our regular daily routines, the more aware we are of what we used to do every day. Simply because everyone is stuck at home for so long, our typical daily practices do not need to be stalled. The order that comes with daily tasks works well in fighting the anxiety of living in the COVID-19 pandemic. Although there are new limitations on our lives as a result of quarantine, life in no way has to stop moving. The new normal is only as abnormal as one lets it be.


Krans, Brian. “Steps to Help You Keep a Daily Routine During the COVID-19 Outbreak.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 13 Apr. 2020, www.healthline.com/health-news/how-to-keep-daily-routine-during-covid19-shelter-in-place.

Rivers, Megan. “Maintaining Routines Important While Social Distancing during COVID-19 Pandemic, Expert Says.” wusa9.Com, 23 Mar. 2020, www.wusa9.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/maintaining-routines-is-important-while-social-distancing-during-covid-19-pandemic/65-a734f052-ae17-45eb-b141-acab06fa906b.

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Agency and Lovability: The Roots of Suffering and Recovery

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By Harvey Hyman, M.S.

As a therapist treating adult clients with depression, anxiety, or addiction, I have concluded that all three conditions stem from developmental trauma known as “adverse childhood events” (popularly called ACEs) (Felitti, 1998). Examples of ACES are a chaotic home environment marked by sudden angry arguments, domestic violence, parental substance abuse, parental incarceration or parental separation/divorce; physical, sexual or emotional abuse; or failure to meet the child’s need for validation, loving emotional connection, emotional holding and affectionate physical touch.

Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs)

ACEs are highly traumatic to children. They impair the structural and functional development of the child’s brain while blunting her ability to sense what happens in her body or to experience and express her emotions (Perry, 2006). They also cause the developing child to create powerful negative self-beliefs as a way of explaining why her parents treat her so terribly. A child is 100% dependent on her parents and is not capable of forming or living with the belief that they are cruel, incompetent, or uncaring, so she blames herself for being abused or ignored. She concludes that there is something wrong or defective about her and that she alone is the cause of the ACES inflicted upon her when such is certainly not true (Miller, 2007).

Negative self-beliefs are a form of self-blame for the pain of not being loved well. They operate over the lifespan like a software program buried invisibly in the unconscious mind. An adult who harbors unconscious negative self-beliefs has a tendency to keep finding evidence to confirm them. While adults without a traumatic childhood can shake off and bounce back from their missteps, mistakes, rejections, and failures, the same is not true for children who were traumatized. The more ACEs in childhood the more suffering in adulthood (Felitti, 1998).

The list of negative self-beliefs a child can develop is a rather long, sad list and includes such beliefs as: “I don’t deserve to exist;” “I don’t make mistakes, I am a mistake;” “I am invisible;” and “nobody will ever love me.” In my experience, the two most common beliefs relate to a lack of agency and lack of lovability. Let’s take a look at each one.


What does agency refer to, and why is it important? Agency is an essential component of personhood. An agent is capable of acting on her own to protect and care for herself and others, and to bring about changes in herself and her environment. An agent adopts a moral code from her life experiences and comes to know what is good or bad for her. She is able to trust her own judgment.

A child who is over-protected, ignored and unsupported, or invalidated by relentless criticism, grows up without a sense of agency. The over-protected child has no opportunities to test, develop, and see proof of her own abilities. The child who suffers from parental indifference and lack of support, grows up feeling invisible and powerless. This perception is strengthened by the fact that she must rely completely upon her own resources while competing with other children at school and extra-curricular activities. She feels alone and is filled with self-doubt. The child who is criticized over and over by her parents, may see herself as unable to get anything right or achieve anything worthwhile. Adults who lack a sense of agency are prone to fear, anxiety, and shame. When they do succeed on the surface, they suffer from imposter syndrome.


What does lovability encompass? To be lovable is to be accepted just as you are without needing to manipulate others or pretend to be more than you are to gain social acceptance. An adult who perceives herself as unlovable due to childhood trauma sees herself as broken, defective, and less than others. She hesitates to approach others for friendship, dating, jobs, or promotions because she views herself through self-degrading adjectives like unattractive, ugly, stupid, dull, boring, uncool, awkward, etc. She perceives herself to be a misfit that does not belong and anticipates social rejection and exclusion. When she is turned down from friendship or a job, she sees this as confirmation of his negative core belief and is triggered to re-experience childhood pain. Lack of lovability goes with shame, sadness, and depression.


The good news is that the negative self-beliefs formed in childhood consequent to abuse or neglect can be vanquished. This occurs when the client re-lives the painful experiences that formed the beliefs, understands how they arose, and becomes able to reject them as the logical interpretation of a child’s mind seeking to account for and cope with a miserable childhood. This process requires step-by-step progress in therapy as the client wades deeper and deeper into the waters of what is the emotional truth of her life.

At Healing Pathways, the interns are skilled in a variety of treatment modalities that can help clients process their childhood trauma and reach emotional freedom without constraint by negative self-beliefs that do not match up with reality. These modalities include EMDR, brainspotting, psychodynamic psychotherapy, expressive arts therapy, narrative therapy, hakomi, and compassionate inquiry. Our therapists can also teach clients how to respond effectively to being triggered by another person or event that brings up their most painful self-belief. We teach clients mindfulness, meditation, guided imagery, the flash technique, tapping in, and a variety of skills for self-calming and self-soothing. Potential clients who share the challenges discussed in this blog are encouraged to learn more about these therapies and ask for a therapist intern at Healing Pathways who uses the therapy that seems like the most promising or the best fit.


Felitti, V.J. et al. (1998) Relationship of child abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4); 245-258, doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0749-3797(98)00017-8

Perry, B.D. and Szalavitz, M. (2006). The boy who was raised as a dog and other stories from a child psychiatrist’s notebook: What traumatized children can teach us about loss, love, and healing. New York: NY. Basic Books. 

Miller, A. (2007). The drama of the gifted child: The search for the true self. New York: NY. Basic Books. 

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The Place Where You Stare

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By Mayumi Elk Eagle, AMFT, APCC

Do you notice you are staring at one spot when you are trying to remember something? Developed by Dr. David Grand, Brainspotting trauma therapy helps you to process your unresolved trauma by finding a spot for your eyes to focus on.

Grand first discovered this phenomenon while performing Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy for his client. EMDR uses bilateral, dual stimulation to help you store your traumatic memories into the right perspectives in your brain (Shapiro, 2018). In this case, David was guiding his client to move her eyes from side to side.

He realized that “her eyes wobbled dramatically and then locked in place” (Grand, 2013, p. 13) during the process. Intuitively, he felt she wanted to stop and look at a fixed spot, so he let her. After a while, memories she had forgotten came up like it opened the floodgates.

Brainspotting doesn’t require describing traumatic experiences by using your words. Traumas are “largely the result of primitive responses” (Levine, 1997, p.24). Many traumatized individuals were not able to express their feelings because they cannot describe their body sensations (Van der Kolk, 2014, p. 100). Moreover, “the rational brain” (p. 47) is incapable of talking “the emotional brain out of its own reality” (Van der Kolk, 2014, p. 47).

With your therapist present, you can try to feel your body sensations and bring up emotions attached to your traumatic experiences. Trauma therapy can be overwhelming. It sounds terrifying, but with brainspotting trauma therapy, you get to decide how you want to process your trauma.


Grand, D. (2013). Brainspotting. Boulder, CO: Sounds True

Shapiro, F. (2018). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy. New York, NY: The Gilford Press

Van der Kolk, B (2014). The Body Keeps the Score. New York, NY: Penguin Books

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How Do Smells Trigger Emotions?

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By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

Smell is perhaps the most mysterious out of the six senses. It has proven crucial to human survival throughout the ages and has definite links in emotion and memory. Recalling specific memories is difficult based on smell alone, especially with more obscure scents picked up at seemingly unrelated times and locations. Regardless of one’s ability to trace memories with smell alone, the emotions associated with them are real.

The power of smell is more prominent in our lives than one may think.
Most of us are well aware of the connection between our sense of smell and ability to recall emotions. This can happen by stumbling upon a similar smell by chance or through mediums such as perfume to enforce emotions linked to memories where the scent was present (Bergland). For example, the aroma of certain foods from childhood can bring back memories of home or loved ones. The smell of familiar scents can help place us in a specific mood.

The amygdala, the area in the brain where emotions are processed, and the hippocampus where memories are formed, are closely linked with where the brain processes smell, or the olfactory bulbs (Saplakoglu). Emotions aid in telling us to avoid or approach certain things, a familiar trait in our sense of smell. Understanding the chemical processes that occur when we pick up certain odors is important in dealing with memory and emotion in context.

It is easy to forget the strong role smell plays in our feelings, but it can be a helpful tool to get in a certain mindset thanks to the memories associated with certain scents. Things like perfume and incense are not only capable of bringing about pleasant scents but can also shift our mood and help us relax. When smelled at a specific time, scents tend to place people in the same emotion they felt when they smelled it the first time. For some, the human sense of smell can be hard to describe and tends to bring out more raw emotions due to the vivid yet mysterious sensation smelling things can induce. So, let’s make sure to stop and smell the roses every once in a while!


Bergland, Christopher. “How Does Scent Drive Human Behavior?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 29 June 2015, www.psychologytoday.com/us/

Saplakoglu, Yasemin. “Why Do Smells Trigger Strong Memories?” LiveScience, Purch, 8 Dec. 2019, www.livescience.com/why-smells-trigger-memories.html.

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Hakomi: Working with the Inner Child

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By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

Hakomi puts much importance on the non-ordinary state of consciousness called the “inner child.” Sometimes it is more in alignment with the adult self, other times not (Eisman, 1989).

“The goal of child development is individuation, a sense of the self as a unique and defined being, with mastery of the functional skills necessary to participate in and enjoy life. What the child is developing is his or her own uniqueness. In Hakomi terms, the child is striving to attain its own organicity” (Eisman, 1989, p. 10). As children, to attain individuation, we need unity with our caregivers. “Experiences that support our self-respect and individuation create positive core beliefs. Experiences that violate us create limiting core beliefs” (p. 11).

Experiences evoked in therapy frequently relate to early childhood. Through these experiences, the inner child can express herself. This expression happens spontaneously as a consciousness shift and emerges through an “influence of emotionally charged memories.”

“In remembering the feelings and events of childhood, we remember also the consciousness of childhood,” which is “another non-ordinary state of consciousness” (Ron Kurtz, 1990, p. 131). The child can and often does appear spontaneously in psychotherapy, and the therapist can assist it in emerging (p. 133).

Experiences learned in one state of consciousness might be hard to access from a different state of consciousness. Thus, a child who had early experiences, “was in a much different state of consciousness than the adult” she became. So much so that many adults have “difficulty remembering what they were like” as children. But it was “the child’s experiences that created the core material,” which influences adult present time experiences (p. 132).

Ideally, the individual in a “child state of consciousness” has not lost her connection to the present time situation, and the child she was and the adult she is are both present simultaneously (p. 132). As such, this could provide an opportunity to do some integration by helping a client relive painful experiences, watch them at the same time, understand the history, and combine “the emotional intensity of childhood with the reasoning capabilities of an adult” (p. 132).

The inner child and her experiences built her worldview and self-image, so by making contact and working with that child, you have the option of changing that worldview and self-image. Just by being there with her, by talking to her and explaining things, by being careful, patient, and concerned, just by doing that, you help change the way she feels about herself and the world. And by doing that, you help change the adult as well (Kurtz, 1990).

“Child consciousness may feel like part of an integrated life, or it can appear to limit and sabotage a satisfying adult life” (Morgan, 2015, p. 204). Some people can have child aspects that dominate their “adult self in present time,” and thus, they may seem childish, “too emotional, or overly dependent on others” (p. 205).


Eisman, J. (1989). The child state of consciousness and the formation of the self. Hakomi Forum, (7), 10-15.

Kurtz, R. S. (1990). Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: Liferhythm Press.

Morgan, M. (2015). Child States and Therapeutic Regression. H. Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (pp. 203-216). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

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Hacking the Heat Waves

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By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

Most of us are not at our best in uncomfortably hot weather. We tend to feel more irritable, tired, or restless. And no one would blame us — the heat can be truly unbearable.

Studies have revealed the psychology of how heat can affect our mood, for better or worse. According to Psych Central, heat waves have been found to increase depression and aggression, and humidity lowers concentration and energy (Grohol). With summer on its way, let’s be mindful of ways to be mentally healthy in the heat.

Here are some simple actions we can take to cope with hot weather: 

Notice your feelings.

Take a moment to think about how temperatures affect your mood (Nyamora). Pay attention to how you are feeling. Do not ignore your feelings, especially when it’s hot out.

Catch yourself before you act.

Half the battle is catching yourself when you feel your mood is being affected by the weather. Take a moment to pause and take some deep breaths. If you can stop yourself before acting out and saying or doing something you might regret, you will feel better in the long run.

Practice self care.

Stay hydrated, in air conditioning, and out of the heat as much as possible. 

Plan your day around the heat waves.

If you know the weather is going to be hot, run errands and exercise when it’s cooler.

Remember to be mindful of your needs and attitude all year round, but be especially careful when it’s hot. It takes little effort to ensure you are doing your best to remain healthy and positive, even when nature gets in the way. On the positive side, hot weather can make swimming and indoor activities feel even nicer! It doesn’t take much to make the best of the summer heat.


Grohol, John M. “The Psychology of a Heat Wave.” World of Psychology, Psych Central, 8 July 2018, https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-psychology-of-a-heat-wave/.

Nyamora, Cory. “How Does Hot Weather Affect Your Mental Health? – Endurance: A Sports and Psychology Center.” Endurance, Endurance: A Sports and Psychology Center, 14 Aug. 2019, https://www.endurancecenter.org/join-us-at-this-years-5thannual-svpa-student-research-conference/2019/8/14/how-does-hot-weather-affect-your-mental-health.

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Hakomi: Riding the Rapids

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By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

In Hakomi, there are “four distinct states of consciousness.” First is the “ordinary, everyday, outward-focused consciousness” where most of our lives are lived. Second, where most Hakomi Therapy happens, is mindfulness: inward-focused awareness on present experience where “the vast richness of inner experience is available.” The third state of consciousness is working with intense emotions, “riding the rapids,” and the fourth “is the child” (Barstow, 1985, p. 14).

There are numerous experiments in mindfulness, including “verbal and nonverbal probes, taking over, slowing down, acknowledgments, referencing the neutral, physicalizing, and others” (Lavie, 2015, p. 179). Sometimes an experiment in mindfulness can touch a client so deeply that she finds herself “riding the rapids of spontaneous emotional release” (p. 192).

When safety and support have been established, a client might have “a spontaneous emotional release” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 125). Emotional release, once it begins, can become an almost organic need, which, if uninterrupted, can flow to completion.

“In Hakomi, we don’t push through resistance, we process feelings when they arise spontaneously, without forcing them in any way. When an emotional release is seen as central and the therapist deliberately promotes it, the resistance to emotions is thought of as a negative part of the client. A struggle often ensues in which the therapist and one part of the client attempt to experience and express feelings, while another part of the client habitually fights back. The effect is often conflicting for the client, with feelings of guilt and failure on one side and natural resistance to being forced on the other. The part that doesn’t want to feel or express has a story too. We listen to it. When a way is found to accommodate both expression and control, the work with emotions is more integrated, less overwhelming, and meets with little resistance” (Kurtz, 1990, p. 125).

Throughout the therapeutic process, clinicians continually and carefully track for the indicators that a client’s emotions are at hand and ready for release. At these times, we assist their release of emotions and don’t provoke them or exhaust their defenses whatsoever. We assist in managing the flow of feelings as they occur “by making them as safe as possible,” allowing them to “take their own course,” and by avoiding confrontation and being less directive and less insistent, we avoid triggering the defenses. In supporting the spontaneity “of emotional release, especially the tensions and postures,” a “client habitually uses to manage strong” emotions, the process becomes easier and safer for a client to go into (p. 125-126). This approach helps bring mindfulness into the ways one organizes their experience. Hakomi therapists attempt to help clients realize “that their feelings are okay and that” it can be safe and satisfying to express those feelings (p. 126).

The “spontaneous expression of strong emotions” is “a specific state of consciousness” that is characterized by intensity, present-time experience, physical spontaneity, and limited ability for thought or reason (p. 126). Lots of energy is released. These intense feelings generally come in waves with insight and memories in between the crests. Feelings of rage, profound grief of loss, and deep sobbing can seem overwhelming and uncontrollable even though much effort can be expended to control them. However, if one attempts to control them, they get more painful. When the feelings are accepted as okay and even natural, when they are expressed more freely “and allowed to run their course,” then they aren’t just bearable, they can be comforting (p. 126).


Barstow, C. (1985). An Overview of the Hakomi Method of Psychotherapy. Hakomi Forum, 3, 8-18. http://www.hakomiinstitute.com/Forum/Issue2/Overview.pdf

Kurtz, R. S. (1990). Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: Liferhythm Press.

Lavie, S. (2015). Experiments in Mindfulness. H. Weiss, G. Johanson & L. Monda (Eds.). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice (pp. 178-193). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

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By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

Although concern for one’s physical well-being is increasing because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of mental health persists. Social distancing and self-isolation, for many, is the last thing they need for their mental well-being, however necessary it is. Although face-to-face counseling is out of the question, for now, many therapists are turning to teletherapy to continue counseling.

Regardless of preference, this method of therapy prevents the risk of spreading the virus that is present in in-person therapy sessions. Meeting with patients new and old has been made more accessible with teletherapy, eliminating the need to drive to therapy, and allowing for more flexible scheduling. Some are also seeking out help with teletherapy due to the privacy that it offers (Robitzski).

Whatever the reason may be, this widespread expansion of therapy to online communication has increased interest in speaking with mental health professionals. As more therapists become more easily accessible, reaching out to mental health professionals becomes less intimidating to newcomers.

Teletherapy has been shown to work as a decent substitute for meeting in an office. However, some still find the lack of communication via body language, the technical difficulties that come with speaking remotely, and inabilities to find private spaces at home to talk, outweigh the good that comes with teletherapy during the pandemic.

The rise of teletherapy during quarantine has saved many from facing this sudden social isolation completely alone, allowing crucial access to mental health and wellness services. The differences between teletherapy as opposed to face-to-face therapy in an office are a detriment or a benefit depending on who you talk to. In the end, however, your choice of therapy options is entirely yours.


Robitzski, Dan. “The Pandemic Is Forcing Teletherapy to Go Mainstream.” Futurism, Neoscope, 16 Apr. 2020, futurism.com/neoscope/

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Intro to Sand Tray Therapy

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By Paul Hubbard, MA, AMFT

While psychotherapy can be daunting for many prospective clients, sand tray can make psychotherapy more accessible for child, adolescent, and adult clients, and for “individuals, couples and families” (Homeyer & Sweeney, 2011).

Sand tray therapy (also referred to as sandplay therapy) assists one in constructing her own microcosm with colored sand and small toys. The scenes created act as a mirror of her own life and give her a chance at resolving conflicts, removing obstacles, and gaining self-acceptance. Through creative self-expression, someone in therapy can manifest in the sand things they might otherwise be unable to articulate or acknowledge in traditional talk therapy (Good Therapy).

There are different types of sand tray therapy, including the “traditional Lowenfeld approach and Jungian sandplay to Gestalt methods and cognitive-behavioral approaches” (Homeyer & Sweeney, 2011, p. 7).

In working with child clients, either individually or within a family, it’s important to realize that they don’t communicate in the same ways adults do. Children don’t “have the cognitive or verbal maturity to communicate in counseling” in the same ways that adults do (p.1). Children don’t have the intellectual or developmental sophistication to engage in adult, talk-based therapies. Many children and adolescents cannot verbalize their emotional states, especially if they have experienced trauma, abuse or neglect (Good Therapy).

There are numerous benefits to doing sand tray therapy, including:

  1. How it offers “expression to nonverbalized emotional issues” (Homeyer & Sweeney, 2011, p.8). Sand tray offers an easy way of expression for someone unable or unwilling to express themselves verbally.
  2. How the “very tactile experience of touching” and playing with the sand is therapeutic itself (p.8).
  3. In allowing a client to direct the process, it creates a needed therapeutic distance for them by assisting them in being more detached from their trauma without being numb.
  4. In family therapy, sand tray therapy is inclusive.
  5. It creates appropriate boundaries in a therapeutic relationship, which assists a client in feeling safer and avoiding becoming re-traumatized.
  6. Sand tray therapy can be very effective in overcoming a client’s resistance. Children don’t generally self-refer. Because of sand tray therapy’s nonthreatening and engaging characteristics and because “play is the natural medium of communication for children,” even if a child client has been compelled to attend therapy by an adult, they are still generally open to treatment because of being allowed to express themselves through play.
  7. Sand tray therapy offers a helpful communication medium for clients of all ages who have poor verbal skills, including those with “English as a second language” (p.10). “Sandtray allows for expression of deep and personal issues in a common, symbolic language” (p.10). When individuals in relationships are unable to express their needs, sand tray offers a way to express those needs without being dependent on words.
  8. Sand tray is an effective way to assist a client in having more of an “internal locus of control” (p. 11).
  9. Sand tray is a way to access unconscious material in the client.
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