Play is Powerful

play therapy_EWBy Liz Wine

“Do you make toys in here?”

“Wow, it’s like Disneyland!”

“Cool office!”

These are all comments that non-clients have stated about my office at school, even the older students know this is a special place that is unlike any other room at the school. In this place, they will not be talked at, they will be talked to. In this place, they can freely and openly express their emotions without fear of ridicule by their peers. This is a sanctuary where play therapy occurs on a daily basis.

If you read Michelle’s post last month about play therapy, you will recall that it is a specific type of therapy that allows the windows to a child’s world to be opened, using play as the common dialect. It utilizes play to make difficult situations and topics less intimidating, and allows the child to feel less vulnerable.

This modality of therapy utilizes toys, sand, books, art supplies and more to engage a child. However, it may be argued that the most important “prop” is the therapist. When a child interacts with a therapist, this relationship has the potential to be a dynamic of healing as well as provide an appropriate model for positive interaction with others.

As a therapist, there have been times when I have experienced moments in play therapy where time has seemed to stand still, where the rest of the world seems to fade away except the important work that a child is doing. At those moments, I pause and feel deep gratitude that such a therapy modality is out there for children and families to experience.

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Adult Children of Alcoholics

By Dee Marsh

Did you grow up with someone who abused alcohol?  Chances are you are experiencing certain characteristics and behaviors that are getting in the way of living life to the fullest.
The problem with alcohol abuse is not always obvious. The most visible victim is the alcohol abuser. They are likely to have problems with family and friends, employment difficulties, accidents, and poor health, as well as other problems caused by their own use of alcohol. However, the alcoholic is not the only one who suffers. Those who live with the alcoholic, especially children, are deeply affected by the alcohol abuse. These co-victims can take on the characteristics of the disease without ever taking a drink themselves.
These “invisible victims” may appear to be coping well on the outside; however, this may be due to taking on unhealthy roles in the family in order to survive dysfunctional family dynamics. Coping patterns that help the child survive in the family while growing up do not always translate well into adult life.

In the book Adult Children of Alcoholics by Janet Geringer Woititz, Ed.D, the author focuses on what happens to children of alcoholics when they reach adulthood.  She shares that children of alcoholics often do not learn what other children learn growing up.  She explains that they may do well in surviving the family patterns they experience, but they fail to learn the day to day process of “doing life.”  She identifies thirteen attributes these children take into adult life.  She summarizes these attributes as follows:

1. Adult children of alcoholics guess at what normal behavior is.
2. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end.
3. Adult children of alcoholics lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.
4. Adult children of alcoholics judge themselves without mercy.
5. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty having fun.
6. Adult children of alcoholics take themselves very seriously.
7. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty with intimate relationships.
8. Adult children of alcoholics overreact to changes over which they have no control.
9. Adult children of alcoholics constantly seek approval and affirmation.
10. Adult children of alcoholics usually feel that they are different from other people.
11. Adult children of alcoholics are super responsible or super irresponsible.
12. Adult children of alcoholics are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved.
13. Adult children of alcoholics are impulsive. They tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences. This impulsively leads to confusion, self-loathing and loss of control over their environment. In addition, they spend an excessive amount of energy cleaning up the mess.

She also has a website that provides information and support for people who grew up in alcoholic or dysfunctional homes.  More information can be found at
One program that helps support adult children of alcoholics (ACOA) is called ACA or Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization, Inc.  This is a mutual support program for ACOA’s to help each other “discover how childhood affected us in the past and influences us in the present”. They have a program designed to “find freedom from the past and a way to improve our lives today”. Their website is found at

Alcoholism is a disease, with devastating effects not only on the drinker, but on the family as well.  When children of alcoholics grow up and move out of the home, they often take their problems with them.  Like the alcoholic, these problems can be overcome, if the ACOA can recognize they have a problem, and ask for and get the help and support they need.

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Putting a voice to human trafficking

secure care_mural 12 15 14

Mural by the girls at Youthville Secure Care.

Our guest blogger this week is Ashley Clark, Community Advocate and Resource Specialist at Youthville Secure Care.  Secure Care is a residential program  designed to serve girls, ages 10 – 18, who have chronic runaway behaviors and often, involvement in human trafficking.  While in the program,  Ashley works with youth living at Secure Care in the areas of education, healthy relationships, boundaries, goal setting and coping skills.  In addition, Ashley provides aftercare services to graduating youth in their home community to maintain a positive living situation through support and advocacy. 

By Ashley Clark, guest blogger.

Even with the growing awareness of human trafficking, will we ever fully understand what it is like to be sold time and time again? To be used for someone else’s personal gain? We, as a community, hear the statistics and facts regarding human trafficking and it sounds appalling, but what happens when we put a voice to the crime? I asked a couple of the girls I work with to write something about human trafficking and this is what they wanted to share…

“The girls I would see having sex for money or drugs were so young, 12, 13, 14, and so on.  It was so sad; I wish they knew what effect it was going to do to them in the future. Also, how dangerous it is and how quickly something can go wrong. They were putting themselves at risk in many ways and I’m sure they didn’t even know it.” -Age 14

“Most females don’t get a choice, most people think it’s not a big deal, but it’s really not a good thing. It is really dangerous. You are putting yourself at risk for STD’s, drugs, and a lot of other things. Some don’t know a life without trafficking and some really need help.” Age-15

Working with runaway adolescent girls puts a different perspective on the term human trafficking. Runaway and at-risk youth are at a higher risk of becoming a potential victim of trafficking; this young and vulnerable population does not choose to be a victim. Pimps use fraud, force, or coercion as means to engage these individuals and violence, threats, and deception to keep them as prisoners.

A study conducted in Chicago by the Center for Impact Research reports that 56 percent of adult trafficked women were initially runaway youth. By using the following indicators identified by The Polaris Project we will help to identify more victims and help put an end to this epidemic:

Common Work and Living Conditions

  • Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts
  • Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp/manager
  • Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
  • Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
  • Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work

Poor Health or Abnormal Behavior

  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
  • Avoids eye contact

Poor Physical Health

  • Lacks health care
  • Appears malnourished
  • Shows signs of physical and or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture

Lack of Control

  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is not in control of his/her money, no financial records, or bank account
  • Is no in control of his/her own identification documents
  • Is not allowed to speak for themselves


  • Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
  • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
  • Loss of sense of time
  • Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story

This is not an exhaustive list and no one indicator or combination of indicators is a definite sign of being a victim of trafficking but are all common characteristics.

If you are interested in learning more about the problem of human trafficking, here are some resources:

Center for Combating Human Trafficking


National Human Trafficking Resource Center

Rescue Freedom

The Polaris Project


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We ask, “What happened to that person?” instead of “What is wrong with that person?”

traumaBy Michelle Scheu

This is the first in a series of posts on trauma and trauma informed culture. Look for future posts from me and some special guest bloggers over the next several months!

If asked for a definition of trauma, most of us would be able to give a generally knowledgeable response. We think of the affects of combat duty, living through a tornado, surviving abuse.

Identifying what defines a trauma informed culture might be a little more difficult. Where I work, our vision of a trauma informed culture is a safe and supportive environment developed through knowledge, sensitivity, and respect for the impact of trauma with a focus on resilience and recovery.

In a trauma informed culture, people ask “What happened to that person?” instead of “What is wrong with that person?” For optimal recovery from a traumatic event or series of events, it is important for therapists treating individuals who have experienced trauma have the specific knowledge and expertise to do so. There have been many positive strides in trauma treatment since I started working as a therapist. As a new therapist, I often felt that I was working blindfolded and in the dark. We know much more now about how trauma affects the brain as well as what interventions hold out the most hope for recovery. We now recognize that the environment in which treatment occurs must foster security and be founded on the belief that all people can heal from painful and sometimes devastating life situations. This is about more than just the therapy provided. It is about creating a safe place where a new client will ask to meet the person who scheduled their first appointment because she was so kind. It is about the youth returning to treatment who tells the receptionist “I am so glad you are still here. Do you remember me?” and the receptionist does. It is about therapists taking care of themselves after hearing about the worst life has to offer day in and day out. This is a trauma informed culture.

The first step in developing a trauma informed culture is understanding the definition of trauma. Here is some basic information to get started:

  • Trauma can occur following a one-time event or a series of events.
  • Trauma results from how a person experiences the event(s), not what actually happened.
  • Some people rebound quickly from even the most shocking experiences. Others are devastated by experiences that, on the surface, appear to be less upsetting.
  • Events that are most likely to cause trauma are those that:
    • are unexpected
    • a person is unprepared for
    • occur in childhood
    • happen repeatedly
    • make a person feel powerless

People are more likely to be traumatized by a new situation if they’ve been traumatized before, especially if the earlier trauma occurred in childhood.

  • Symptoms of trauma can include:
    • Shock, denial, or disbelief
    • Anger, irritability, mood swings
    • Guilt, shame, self-blame

o   Feeling sad or hopeless

    • Confusion, difficulty concentrating
    • Anxiety and fear
    • Withdrawing from others
    • Insomnia or nightmares
    • Being startled easily
    • Racing heartbeat
    • Fatigue
    • Aches and pains
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Edginess and agitation
    • Muscle tension
    • Feeling disconnected or numb

These symptoms and feelings typically last from a few days to a few months. But, memories or emotions can rise again, especially in response to triggers such as an anniversary of the event or an image, sound, or situation that reminds the person of the traumatic experience.

I recently visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. Inside, there is a room honoring all the people who lost their lives as a result of the bombing. For each person, there is a photo and memory box. Some are filled with mementos and some are empty. It struck me as I stood there overwhelmed by sadness that this is a very realistic representation of how trauma affects different people differently. Trauma recovery is a very individualized process.

Recovering from a traumatic event takes time, and everyone heals at his or her own pace. But if months have passed and symptoms aren’t letting up, it may be time to seek professional help from a trauma expert who practices in a trauma informed culture.

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”  ― Fred Rogers


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A little bit about play therapy

playtherapy1By Michelle Scheu
Most people think of therapy as being an option only for adults, teens and perhaps pre-teen youth. The idea of traditional therapy i.e. sitting in a chair and talking about your problems for an hour is pretty funny if you think about putting a 2 or 3 year old in the chair across from the therapist! Funny, but also not very helpful. Unfortunately, bad things can happen to very young children that need resolution before they turn into big problems. Parental custody issues, abuse and neglect, exposure to natural disasters, medical conditions-all of these can impact development in children under the age of 5. Studies tell us that the years between birth to 3 are the time of greatest brain development in humans. Even when a child does not yet have the ability to talk, events are encoded in the brain as sight, sound and touch memories. It makes sense then to treat issues as they arise during these years instead of letting them fester until the child can “talk” about them.

Fortunately, schools of therapy recognized this years ago. Methods of therapy were designed to meet children at their developmental level in order to help them stay on a course of healthy social, emotional and physical growth. Play therapy was born!

Why play? Play is FUN! It allows children to explore and interact in a pleasant way. It encourages creativity, helps to relieve stress and express emotions. For children, play is their natural and universal language; with toys and actions becoming their words

Why Play in Therapy?  In therapy, play assists children with self exploration, social and emotional development, strengthening relationships, and self expression. It provides the therapist an opportunity to learn about children’s thoughts, feelings and struggles. Children who come to play therapy have often exhausted the coping skills they know, resulting in problems at home, in school or with peers. Play therapy allows children to change the way they think about and feel toward events in their lives and to resolve the resulting problem behaviors.

What is Play Therapy? Play therapy differs from regular play in that the therapist helps children to address and resolve their own problems. Play therapy is a structured approach, based on theory that builds on the normal communication and learning processes of children. Play therapists are skilled in creating a safe, inviting environment. They have training in understanding the meanings in children’s play. Sessions are usually held in a playroom, which contains carefully selected toys and materials to assist children in expressing themselves.

There are several types of play therapy, each requiring specialized training and expertise. It is important to talk with any therapist you select about the training they have had. A certification in play therapy is not required, but the therapist should have had formal training in child development and play therapy techniques. Play therapy is NOT the same as sitting in your family room playing with your own children. A therapist without specialized training in this area is just playing with your child, not working on issues therapeutically.

Child Centered Play Therapy: This is sometimes referred to as non-directive play therapy. In this model, a relationship of safety and trust is developed between the child and therapist as the basis for the rest of the work.   The child controls the play and has freedom to express him/herself as s/he chooses during the session. The therapist will set limits as needed to insure everyone remains safe. A wide variety of toys are available for the child to use. These toys should reflect the various aspects of daily life, positive and negative. In Child Centered Play Therapy, the child has the opportunity to process issues by playing them out with feedback about underlying thoughts and feelings provided by the therapist.

Filial Play Therapy: This allows the parent to partner with therapist to bring about change. The parent learns to conduct their own play therapy session with the child, using the techniques of Child Centered Play Therapy. This type of therapy assists in strengthening the parent/child bond and provides the parent with an opportunity to understand their child better.

Theraplay ®: This is a directive type of play therapy that works to strengthen the bond between child and parent through looking at and working in the areas of engagement, nurture, challenge and structure in the parent/child relationship. This type of therapy is beneficial to children with a wide array of issues from those who struggle with self-control to those who have experienced trauma or an attachment disruption. Specific activities that parents can use at home to enhance their relationship with the child are taught in addition to participation in Theraplay® sessions.

How Can Families Be Involved?

Parents are a key ingredient to success in the play therapy process! After all, children spend the majority of their time with their parents, not their therapist. Therapists can help the parents better understand the issues underlying children’s feelings and behaviors. Additionally, therapists can help parents learn new strategies and provide support to manage their child’s behavior. It is important for parents to communicate any stressors or changes in behavior that have occurred between sessions. This gives the therapist a bigger picture of what the child may be experiencing. At times, play therapy can bring difficult emotions to the surface, and regression may occur. If you experience this, communication with the therapist is vital so concerns can be addressed quickly.

Children and families heal quicker when they work together!

Still have questions about play therapy? Here are some resources for more information on involving your child in play therapy:

Association for Play Therapy:

The Theraplay® Institute:

Dibs In Search of Self. Virginia M. Axline. 1986.

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“Are you guys ready to cry?”

AA004798By Liz Wine

I recently went to a concert given by Mary Lambert (not to be confused with Miranda Lambert). Mary is an artist who has experienced significant trauma in her life and is also open about having bipolar disorder. Her music speaks a lot about self-acceptance, body image, mental health, the trauma she has experienced, while still managing to convey a message of hope and empowerment. When Mary first took the stage, she said, “Are you guys ready to cry?” I knew this was not going to be a normal concert.

Trauma can be an isolating road that can bury people in their pain and despair. Mary Lambert chose to use her music as an outlet for this pain. I observed this to be a healthy way to express, and not stuff or repress the emotions. At the same time, her message can encourage others and let them know they are not alone. Mary is also very open about her sexuality, which can be another isolating experience for those that are questioning or struggling to accept themselves.

One of her most recent songs, which can be heard on the radio, is called “Secrets.” This song is simply her sharing what her “secrets are” while again preaching self-acceptance. When I hear the song on the radio, or live in person it never ceases to put a smile on my face.

I am glad there are artists like Mary Lambert in this world, who sing about real and difficult issues. Do you have favorite artists that you feel also are able to do this?

Learn more about Mary Lambert here.

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Bah Humbug!

DSC_0003By Liz Wine

With less sunlight, shorter days and more stress, this time of the year can be a buzz-kill for many people. Tack on the stress of dealing with difficult family members, and trying to create the perfect holiday, and you have a recipe for a bad case of the doldrums.

To avoid morphing into Ebenezer Scrooge, there are a few things you can try to do to lighten your load and to even spread some holiday cheer!

  • With less sunshine, we all could use some more light. Take a drive and look at holiday lights!
  • Bundle up and go for a walk! Exercise can reduce stress and put you in a better mood
  • Snuggle up with a good book, a blanket and hot cocoa.
  • Watch a corny movie (it doesn’t have to be a holiday one), and make fun of it if you like.
  • Schedule in some down time. With all the hustle and bustle, mark off some time in your calendar to have much needed quiet and relaxation.

When you are feeling down, one of the best things you can do is to give to others. Remembering that we have so much, and have the ability to help others can boost your mood and your spirits.

  • Do some Random acts of kindness around your neighborhood, workplace or town. This could be as simple as paying for the next person’s coffee in the drive-through line.
  • If you are able, consider acts of holiday giving. If you are the mall doing shopping, see if there is an “angel tree” that allows you to pick an ornament and buy a gift for a child. Or make some holiday goodies and leave some for your mail carrier!

I hope you find some space to breathe and enjoy this season!

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Parents of the kids I work with want to know signs of drug use – this is what I tell them:

teen alcohol 12 2 14By Dee Marsh
While teen use of alcohol and drugs is nothing new, drug use and terms have changed dramatically over time. Sitting around being groovy and toking on reefers is so last century.  Today’s teens have a lot of access to information on other ways to get high.

Parents of teens I work with often ask what signs they should look for that would indicate their son or daughter is abusing drugs.  Here is a list of some signs that might indicate your son or daughter is experimenting with drugs or alcohol.

My son or daughter . . . .
… has gone from being a nice kid to being mean and angry all the time
…is wearing all black or has become sloppy in their attire
…has become apathetic and disinterested in life
…frequently has red eyes or carries eye drops
…finds reason to use cleaning supplies or smells like chemicals
…has a lot of cold medications in room or in backpack
…has other strange household items in room or backpack along with nifty little gadgets
…it seems like our prescription medications are being used faster than they should be
…has close friends that I suspect are abusing substances
…looks thinner, but denies losing weight
…is eating us out of house and home after a night with friends
…has become more secretive
…has switched friends
…may be taking alcohol or cash from family members
…has started getting into trouble at school.
…has dropped their grades
…has extra money, but no job
…has been isolating themselves lately from friends and family.

The most important thing you can do if you suspect your son or daughter may be experimenting with drugs is to talk with them.  Let them know that you are paying attention to what they are doing.  Be clear with them on what your expectations are for them. Remember to communicate your love and concern for them during this time of experimentation.

If you suspect they need help to quit, be proactive.  The earlier help is started, the better the outcome.  Alcohol and drug addiction is considered a medical disease and treatment is available.  FCS Counseling can provide an assessment to determine if treatment is indicated.  Other agencies can as well.  Be the advocate your son or daughter needs to get help.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

thanksgiving post

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