The power of the dollhouse in exploring and healing

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Here are 3 of my favorite play therapy interventions for all ages. I have found play comes naturally to all people, it is tangible and best of all gets you “out of your head.” It can be frustrating to have a client robotically, automatically give you all the answers they think you are looking for. Speaking genuinely from our hearts not our heads can be difficult, especially for those of us over the age of 5. Which is my I am a huge proponent of play and art therapy. It just seems to access a different part of us, a deeper more meaningful part of what makes us human.

The dollhouse. I know what you are thinking, and yes, the dollhouse can be used for your older clients too.

1. Dream world: One of my favorite dollhouse interventions is adapted from sand tray. I have the client create their world. I then comment on it in non-directive observing ways. Hint: don’t ask questions and try wondering statements to explore instead. “I wonder who this child is in the room alone. I notice those two people are standing close to each other and the others are far away from them, I wonder how they feel about that.” This helps explore the creation without guessing or adding meaning that the client has not already shared. After this have the client create his or her DREAM WORLD. After the client explains this to you, create a list with the client about the differences between the two worlds and whether or not the client believes he or she has “control” over these differences. For example, therapist: “I notice you have dad living in your home in your dream world. Is that something you think you can control or not?” “You’re right. Your parents’ divorce is not something you can change or control. Divorce is an adult’s decision when they think it is best and it is never a child’s fault.” “You do have control over your mind though and what are some ways you could change your thinking about the divorce to help make your world better?” Client: “I could think it’s not my fault and remember my dad still loves me even though he’s far away.” Therapist: “That seems like a really helpful idea. How can we remind you to think of this at home?” Client: “I could hang a letter from my dad in my room to remember that he loves me.”
This is a very powerful intervention and you will be surprised and inspired by what you discover. Remember, for the those things in the client’s world they cannot control, simply validating the client’s circumstances and story is powerful in and of itself too.

2. Social skills: this is great for younger clients. Use the dollhouse to act out social skills. You can even have social skill cue cards (sharing, taking turns, trading, using assertiveness skills, etc) and take turns acting out the skills in the dollhouse while the other guesses the skills.

3. Non-directive: Set the dollhouse out and see what happens. Create a space safe enough that any client can feel comfortable to explore the dollhouse and then simply comment on their play and creations. I will sometimes just leave it out and when the client asks, “What is this?” What can we do with this?” I reflect back, “hmm what could we do with this…”And wait for the client to tell me.

Tips: have a dollhouse that is open to interpretation or looks similar to what your clients can relate to. I work in the city and have a city apartment building house that my clients enjoy using. Also, do you best to have multicultural families and a variety of ages, both male and female figurines. I have animals dressed in clothes which are great for children to identify with because they are very open to interpretation.

Happy playing!

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