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  • Writer's pictureVanessa

The Spaces of Wholesome Healing

“There is no magic in magic. It’s all in the details.”

- Walt Disney

The practice of play therapy, and the resultant work of the child – never ceases to feel like magic to me. It always has and I know it always will. For when we set up the necessary therapeutic dimensions, children show us what life is like for them, what they feel like, and what they need. Even more, they create what they need for themselves, in the therapeutic space of the playroom and within the relationship they have with the play therapist. What emerges from children in child-centered play therapy, is so much greater, so much more meaningful, and so much more powerful… than we could ever direct. Our part as play therapists is to create the necessary therapeutic dimensions, the children do the rest. Garry Landreth outlines the therapeutic dimensions in the play therapy as the therapist’s:

Belief in the child

Respect for the child

Acceptance of the child

Hearing the inner child

Acceptance of the child’s will

Focus on the child’s needs

Freedom for the child to set his own direction

Opportunity for the child to make choices

Respect for the child’s boundaries

Patience with the process

(Landreth, 2012, p. 83)

These are the conditions that we set up through the therapeutic relationship and in the therapeutic playroom. And when we do this, children do the work they need to do to thrive. They can heal from hardships and trauma. They can feel powerful in the face of anxiety and confusion. They can feel in control in areas of their life that felt very out of control (and scary) before… and when they can do all of these things, the result is healthy development and growth. They can be free to develop and function as the best versions of themselves. This is the work of play therapy. It is deep and meaningful work. It is work that I feel so honored and grateful that I get to be a part of.

I am and forever will be in awe of the children who walk through our doors to do this work. And of the parents who entrust us with their children and allow us to enter the inner worlds of their families. It is this deep respect and admiration for our clients that leads me to constantly strive for excellence as a practice. Not just through quality care, but through every interaction, every space, and every part of the experiences that children and their families have here. I think of the feeling that children get in the playroom… the feeling of being free in this space. Free to do their work, as they need to do it, and in their own time. The feeling of a space is so powerful. It is why we focus so much on the space of the therapeutic playroom as play therapists. From the specific categories of toys present, to the careful balance of freedom and structure, to the accessibility of items for the child… to the countless other details, that although seemingly minute, matter greatly. All of these parts matter. The constant of the toys being in the same place and the room set up the same way – each time a child enters the space – it matters. These are anchors for children. Things they can rely on. Details that create a feeling of stability and safety, so that they can work on the things that feel otherwise too big, too unmanageable, or too inaccessible… due to the many other factors that get in the way outside of this contained and protected therapeutic space.

This level of detail, care, and attention not only goes into the spaces of the therapeutic playrooms, but into the entire space of the practice. It is what I want children and families to feel from the moment they step foot into the office. That they are in a place where they are now seen, heard, cared for, and understood. I want this space to feel like a deep breath. A place where there is safety and containment… a bubble if you will… that gives some reprieve from all the hardships that children and families are facing, even if just for a short period of time.

“All children should experience some joy in their life every day, and this should be the goal of all adults who interact with children on a regular basis. Children are deprived of joy when they are rushed to complete tasks and hurried to grow up. Places of calmness and patience should exist in all children’s lives for, in the midst of calmness and patience children can discover and test their inner resources.” (Landreth, 2012, p. 49)

This is as true for adults as it is for children. We all need bright spots. Places and moments where we feel calm and happy. Where we feel a sense of freedom to just be.

In creating the physical space of Wholesome Healing, my vision was for this to be a bright spot in the lives of children and families. That the space would promote and compliment the work of the child. The design is meant to feel bright and happy. The amenities are all here to provide a sense of comfort… every detail was part of my vision of what this space would feel like for families, with the hope that it would make them feel welcome and appreciated with each and every interaction. As I experience families in this space, it is a bright spot for me, to see how this vision has come to life. Just like play therapy, children and families utilize the space in their own unique ways.

It has a quality of magic to it… seeing what emerges in the way that children and families make this vision… this place come to life.

When I first had the idea of the coffee bar, it was with parents in mind. That parents needed space to sit with a warm coffee or tea, and relax for a bit, to work, or to do whatever it is that THEY need to do, even if just for 30 minutes in their day. They get to choose. What I didn’t anticipate is how much children would love the hot chocolate, and not just the hot chocolate, but the ritual of preparing their hot chocolate, waiting for it to cool during their session, and then getting to enjoy it after their hard work is complete here for the day. This has become so important to so many children. It’s a main priority of ours to make sure it is always stocked!

The worry monster was another vision of mine… that children could have a space to acknowledge and honor their worries. That we could create a tangible representation of their worries, and that we as a practice could hold space for and honor these worries - for the children who entrust the Worry Monster with them. The staff and practitioners here at Wholesome Healing periodically read and burn each and every worry, honoring each child as we do. What I didn’t foresee or expect with the Worry Monster, is the empathy that we see in so many children because of it’s presence. They notice the band aid on the finger of the Worry Monster, they notice that it’s alone and feel a desire for it to have a companion… they notice so many things. It’s important to them. So we take good care of it.

The joint art wall was a space where I wanted to give children a space to be free to do something that they are almost always told not to do – draw on the wall! I also wanted them to have a space to make their mark… to feel a sense of ownership of the space. To be able to have a space to be seen. Many children in therapy want to display things for other children. They know other children come here, and they want to feel connected to them. Due to confidentiality, we can’t do this with session content of any kind. But with the joint art wall, children can accomplish these goals. They can be seen. They can connect with other children. They can express themselves and be known as they want to be known. To see how this evolves each time, is always so heart warming. Kids have creatively used this joint art space in ways that exceeded what I could have envisioned. And they have expressed feeling connected to others and seen as a result.

The cozy corner in the waiting room was one of the very first things I came up with when Wholesome Healing opened its doors. I wanted a space for kids to relax, and even to hide away if they needed to. I wanted it to feel magical to them. They could go in and curl up, closing the curtains to create their own little world in there. What I didn’t anticipate was how much parents would love this space to get comfortable and relax in, or how much families would use this space to snuggle and curl up together! The waiting room cozy corner is one of my favorite parts of our space here.

could go on and on about each and every detail of this space. And it’s not just me… In designing it, the professionals who I coordinate with all get the magic in the details as well. They get that this is more than creating a space… it’s creating a feeling. An atmosphere. We stand and we feel. We wonder what will this feel like to kids. To parents. How will they use this space? What will they need? We think of the design from the eyes and worldview of the child. And also with the needs and experiences of the parents / caretakers, and siblings in mind.

So much laughter and love goes into creating these spaces. So much thought. So much care. We at Wholesome Healing feel that the children and families that come to see us are forever part of the Wholesome Healing family, no matter how brief or long their experience here may be. We want them to feel how much we care in every interaction they have, and in each of the spaces and experiences here. We want this to be a bright spot in their lives. Maybe even for them to feel a little magic 😊

** A special thank you to Cate Hudgins, who has brought my vision to life in more beautiful ways than I could ever have imagined! Your gift for design, and ability to see the world through the eyes of a child has helped to make this a magical place for children and their families ❤️**

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