Reprinted by permission of Open Court Publishing Company, a
division of Carus Publishing Company, Peru, IL,
by Murray Stein, ed.,
copyright ©1982 by Open Court Publishing Company
The process for a child in Jungian therapy is similar to that
for an adult in Jungian analysis. The therapist provides a
container in which the shadows and monsters of the dark, often
frightening and unknown, can be explored, where fears and angers
can be revealed, and where the joys of life and fantasies for
the future can be expressed.
The journey of the child is full of hazardous obstacles,
hindrances, and heroic requirements, as well as happy,
spontaneous moments of growth. However, in the case of a child,
the primary task is the development of ego-strength and an
independent personality. The emerging ego, not yet strengthened
by years of life experience, can be overwhelmed by forces of the
inner world or by circumstances of the outer world.
The therapist, armed with the shield of an adult ego, along with
experience and knowledge of the tasks and struggles of life, can
provide a protected space in which the child can strengthen
itself. The therapist stands guard and helps the child search
within for the creative energies needed to resolve the issues of
Although Jung himself worked almost exclusively with adults, the
practice of child therapy using the insights of analytical
psychology has developed over the last sixty years. The pioneers
in this field have been Frances Wickes, Erich Neumann, Michael
Fordham, Dora Kalff, and Dorothea Romankiw, all of whom built on
Jung's work as well as on their own experiences and ideas.
Wickes was an American whose Inner World of Childhood was
honored by Jung in his introduction to the work. Fordham,
working in London, presented his view of childhood development
and analytic treatment in Children as Individuals. In Zurich,
Kalff studied the child's psyche through sandplay and described
her method in Sandplay. Her work is based in part on the study
of the development of the child by Neumann set forth in his book
The Child. Romankiw is the founder and director of St. George
Homes, a pioneer residential treatment center for adolescents
with severe emotional difficulties. At her center in Berkeley,
California, an innovative and effective use is made of myth,
ritual, and dream, with a focus on tasks directed from within.
For many years, the only training program in Jungian child
analysis that existed was located in London, and was directed by
Fordham. In the last few years, several other programs have been
started, in addition to St. George Homes, indicating a growing
interest in the work with children. The Jung Institutes in
Berlin and in Küsnacht, Switzerland, have training programs for
the treatment of children that are complete in themselves and
distinct from the regular training for adult work. At the Jung
Institute in Los Angeles, the Hilde Kirsch Children's Center was
formed in 1978 as an integral part of the training program for
analysts, requiring of all trainees both theoretical and
clinical knowledge of child treatment in addition to the work
with adults. The incorporation of the work with children has
resulted in an increased awareness of the natural developmental
processes of human life, as well as the difficulties that can
occur in these processes. The work with children has also
stimulated a greater sensitivity to the archetype of the child,
the inner child that symbolizes the explorer of possibilities:
the developing, creative spirit in the adult, whether analysand
These training programs, and the analysts and scholars who have
contributed to the field, base their work on a particular view
of the psyche. The structure they use includes the developing
ego and the emerging archetypes within the totality of the Self.
The goal of human development is seen as the individuation of
the person within a context of the collective, both inner and
outer. The therapist assesses the stages of development of the
child – physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially – in
facilitate the full expression of the unique being of the child
in its proper timing and context.
The infant is born into a state of unity, defined by Neumann as
an experience of total, undifferentiated union with the mother.
Fordham suggests this unity is a primary unity, within the
original individual being of the child. It is a state of unity
upon which the sense of personal identity can rest and
During this time of primary identification, the child is
fundamentally influenced by the parents. At the same time, it is
affected by the deep level of the psyche that carries within it
archetypal patterns. Beyond this is the actual state of unity in
which the child resides, at one with laws of nature and the
universe, albeit in the unconscious state.
Ego-consciousness begins when the child first experiences itself
as a subject. It moves from the primary state of unity and
develops a sense of the "me" that is distinct from the mother
and other objects in the world. Separation takes place. The ego
increases as it strengthens its ability to handle these objects
and to master its world. The attention and energies of the child
turn toward relationships, to the task of exploring likenesses
and differences. Thus begins a spontaneous development toward
maturity. The child starts to form its own personality. This
personality is influenced by the family, by education, and by
There is always an underlying reality in the child from which to
draw strength and courage for this development and separation.
It is a remembrance, an imprint, a substratum of unity from
which consciousness develops. Who has not seen a child spin
around and around, trying to see all 360 degrees at once? Who
has not noticed the child who sits in a magic circle drawn on
the sand, or who scribbles circles and squares in first
drawings? In Analyzing Children's Art, Kellogg describes these
scribbles as the result of an innate impulse of the young child
to create symbols of totality.
A Chippewa song of creation describes this memory of unity: "The
Center of the Earth Is Where I'm From." The pictograph that
accompanies the song is an individual point within a circle. I
have seen spontaneous clay representations of this image made
quite separately at different times by a girl of three and a boy
of five. First, each created a round, hollowed-out container,
carefully decorated with sand and colored stones. Then a little
round ball of clay was formed, decorated with circular forms.
This little round totality could be taken out and put back into
the large round vessel at will. The five-year-old boy described
this action by saying, "This is how it was, and this is how it
is." This is the task of the developing child. It establishes
itself through the increase of ego-consciousness as it separates
from the unity it experienced with the mother. It comes to
relate to the world without losing a relationship to the larger
Self, which provides a container and a foundation for the
awakening sense of the individual. The initial experience of
totality helps the ego of the child face the challenges of
maturation, including the collective pressures to conform to a
Sometimes this experience of inner totality is not firmly
founded in the child. There may be a difficulty in the
relationship between the mother and the child, so that the child
does not feel securely connected to this early source of unity.
There may have been an illness, a divorce, a major move, or
violence within the home or in the outer world. An unstable
environment may not have supported the child's first delicate
explorations of life. The child may then begin to respond to its
environment with fear, anxiety, aggression, or despair. Then the
ego does not have enough strength to relate effectively, and it
may lose its connection to the totality.
Although distortions and blocks in a child's natural development
may be caused by the influences of the outer world, it is also
essential to look at the individual nature of the child. There
are qualitative differences in children. This fact is seen in
families where children respond quite differently to the
parental and social environment. One child may be strengthened
by it and another weakened. Creative and gifted children, or
those who have physical or mental limitations, are already
outside normative standards. They can suffer from a parental or
cultural attitude that requires adaptation to itself but that is
contrary to inherent tendencies. The particular gifts or the
"given" nature of each child must be clearly seen and supported.
Then the child is not cheated of its right to contribute fully
to life according to its capacities, such as they are.
In The Inner World of Childhood, Wickes describes the difficulty
created for the child whose primary psychological typology is
not accepted by its social environment. Jung's conception of
typology, as described in Psychological Types, is based on the
particular strengths and weaknesses of the four functions of
sensation, thinking, feeling, and intuition. Each of these
functions may be displayed in an extraverted or introverted
manner. The child attempts to relate to the world through its
strongest function or functions. If this happens not to be a
generally acknowledged mode of adaptation, the child's sense of
self-acceptance or even reality is placed in question. For
example, an introverted child may be in a school that emphasizes
extraversion, or an extraverted child may be in a family that is
primarily introverted. Depending upon the child, this disparity
can be seen as a challenge to define a strong sense of
individuality, or it may lead to a sense of alienation.
Sometimes a distortion in personality may be created by the
child's attempt to make an adaptation contrary to its own
In addition to outer forces and individual differences, the ego
of the child may be overwhelmed by internal forces; it may be
drowned or mired in contents of the unconscious. These contents
may appear as factors of the unknown darkness, or as threatening
figures such as monsters or dragons, but they are all qualities
inherent in the child's own psyche. In addition, the child's
unconscious may be deeply influenced by the unconscious material
of the parents. Since the child is in a state of identity with
the parents, there is little barrier of ego-discernment between
the psychic life of the child and that of the parent.
It is the view of analytical psychology that the child has
within itself a resource for strength that can aid in the
development of individual personality and of the growing ego.
This resource is the Self and the archetypal world of instincts,
images, and spirit. These primary factors of the inner world,
and the energies that reside in them, can help bring about a
realignment of the child to its true and natural individual
development, even when the circumstances of its life seem
In the process of child therapy, according to Jung's psychology,
there are certain assumptions: The child is already born into
its totality, the totality of the Self. The pattern of its being
is already potentially defined, much as the acorn "contains" the
oak or the caterpillar the butterfly. It is hoped that in the
therapeutic process a connection to both the Self and the
individual pattern will be established and that the unfolding of
a strong personality will proceed.
The natural growth energies of children are often quite blocked
when they arrive in therapy. In some cases it takes time to
establish trust with the therapist before these energies can
reemerge. Frequently, however, in the accepting atmosphere of
therapy, they will burst through the dam. The experience of
these energies and the imagery that accompanies it may be
exuberant or full of fear or anger. If dark spaces and fires are
opened up in the child, appearing either in action or
expression, the therapist must be ready to enter these spaces
with the child.
Often a struggle appears, either symbolically, with boats being
pursued by sea monsters or knights killing dragons, or in outer
action, with fights in school or anger at the parents. As the
tensions and pains of the child begin to emerge into the open,
the therapist provides a safe container through his or her own
experience and understanding of struggle, and through the
strength of his or her own ego.
As the process of sharing continues, the energies that have been
blocked or distorted start to flow. The art of the therapist is
to allow the flood to continue, including its aggressive
qualities, until energies are ready to be used creatively. The
hammer used to destroy old fences can be the same hammer used to
construct a new go-cart.
Sometimes as the energy is released, the tension in the psyche
in-creases. This tension can be the trigger for the emergence of
the Self, frequently appearing suddenly and by surprise. It can
appear symbolically (in images of centering or balancing, or as
a circle or a square) in a dream, in a drawing, in a clay piece,
or in song or dance.
This experience is a numinous moment in therapy. It can
reenergize and direct the course of the growth process in true
relation to the individual nature of the child. The harmonizing
effect of this moment provides in itself a healing factor for a
Almost all activities of the therapeutic process lead to this
moment in which the Self is constellated and then they continue
by supporting the direction of these energies into life. A
little girl of five was torn by pain and anger at being asked to
decide which of her divorced parents she wished to live with.
After being able to share the anguish of this choice with the
therapist, she painted a many-petalled flower of all the colors
of the rainbow. She entitled it simply, "Who I am." Her pain and
anger seemed relieved by this image. A little later came another
painting, divided into two sections, one red and the other
black. In the red were black spots, in the black, red spots. She
remarked, "It's like any person. There is good in the bad and bad
in the good." With this insight she was able to make a stand for
joint custody, desiring the experience of both good/bad parents.
The connection to her many-petalled Self created strength to
choose a path for her own development.
This connection to the Self can be so full of impact on the
psyche that quite a lot of time needs to be given for its
integration. As in any new birth, the first stages are
vulnerable and sensitive. It is wise to be especially protective
of the child during the next phase of therapy, suggesting to the
parents or the teachers that the outside environment remain as
stable as possible. Then the experience of contact with the Self
can be integrated and a new direction for the developing
personality can grow out of it.
Just as there is birth and renewal in this process, there can
also be death and destruction, as old patterns of behavior that
are inappropriate or damaging to the nature of the child are
discarded. A young boy in therapy was able to burn down the
fences in a sand tray that had surrounded all the animals, wild
and domestic. Even the trees had been fenced in. The fire
transformed the structure of inhibitions and released the
animals to return to their proper and natural habitats, the
farms and the jungles. He himself ran out and climbed the
nearest tree. It was the first sign of exuberance that I had
seen from this nine-year-old boy. The symbolic release of
previously imprisoned animal energies simultaneously released
his own physical energies.
The energy and strength and security provided by contact with
the Self may allow a child to go more courageously into a deeper
resolution of his conflicts. The same boy who burned his fences
to release his physical animal vitality, after integrating this
change, burned down the image of an old, tired-looking church.
The church, as he had experienced it, had denied the fire of his
emerging sexuality. He replaced this church with a temple built,
as he said, all out of nature – of sand, stones, and flowers. It
was a temple of mandalic form and was large enough to honor the
exuberance of his spirit and his body – that is, to house his
Contact with the Self in therapy provides the springboard for a
new entry into the world with increased ego-strength and
balance. When this nine-year-old began therapy, he was
withdrawn, listless, and depressed, his body almost rigid. A
month or so after his temple-Self was built, he was able to join
his peers in athletic games, and he began a private scientific
exploration of the planets and outer space. As he said, "If God
is natural, I'd better know all about nature, here and in the
Universe." Thus, he was able to enter the collective world of
boys his own age, but without sacrificing his own particular
development and interests.
In his book The Child, Neumann describes three stages in the
development of the child after unity with the mother. The child
first explores the surrounding world, experiencing its tastes,
smells, sounds, textures. Neumann calls this first stage the
animal-vegetative stage. It is a period of natural growth. The
second stage is a stage of battle or defense, where the child
becomes aware of potential dangers to itself, physically and
psychically, and begins to learn how to protect itself from such
dangers. The third state is the entry into the collective, where
the task is to make an adaptation to group demands without
sacrificing individual growth. Each time the Self reemerges, the
child has an opportunity to go through these stages of
development anew, strengthening ego and personality for their
A relevant description of the stages of natural growth for a
child can be found in Pearce's Magical Child. His concept of
development is that the child moves naturally, biologically,
from one matrix to another, each matrix appropriate to a certain
age. The child moves with success if the context is adequate.
Matrix is the Latin word for "womb." He defines five matrix
shifts, moving from concreteness to abstraction. In the first
year of life, the matrix is the mother, moving then, until about
age seven, to the matrix of the earth, as the child explores the
world. The matrix of personal power in the world is experienced
until about age eleven, and in the matrix of adolescence, the
person becomes his or her own matrix. The full abstraction of
mind itself is the matrix of adulthood.
The essential similarity of this description to the Jungian
understanding is Pearce's sense that each matrix shift is
natural, but is a birth into an unknown state. This movement is
made possible by a firm foundation in the previous matrix and by
a gradual preparation for and exploration of the new state. Each
shift is seen as expanding and encompassing the last. In this
way, also, when the Self emerges, a new birth is constellated,
moving the child or the adult into a fuller experience of its
totality, and providing increased possibilities for creative
engagement with the world.
Jung's statement of this innate drive toward totality was
expressed in his paper, "The Psychology of the Child Archetype."
Although he is speaking of the child as an archetype or symbol,
his view informs the perspective of the actual child as it
develops toward maturing self-realization.
The "child" is born out of the womb of the unconscious, begotten
out of the depths of human nature, or rather out of living
Nature herself. . . . It represents the strongest, the most
ineluctable urge in every being, namely the urge to realize
itself. It is, as it were, an incarnation of the inability to do
otherwise, equipped with all the powers of nature and instinct,
whereas the conscious mind is always getting caught up in its
supposed ability to do otherwise. The urge and compulsion to
self-realization is a law of nature and thus of invincible
power, even though its effect, at the start, is insignificant
and improbable. (1940, pp. 170–71)
The Child and the Archetypes
Images of archetypes other than the Self are commonly
experienced by children. Emerging from the primal structure of
the psyche, these images appear in dreams and fantasies and
often in the description of outer reality. They help children to
define their reality, and they carry with them powerful psychic
energy that can be useful to the awakening personality. The
child lives in this archetypal realm quite fundamentally at the
beginning, since little conscious viewpoint of the personal
world has been established.
A small boy of three was in the hospital for a tonsillectomy. He
saw the nurse come into his room and he whispered, "Here comes
the queen of the desert." The nurse-stranger in his world was
understood through this inner image.
Observing the subtle play of a child's psyche, one often sees
the overlay of archetypal figures onto the personal parents and
other adults. The great mother or the queen is not distinguished
by the child from the personal mother or the nurse, who are
human personalities with limitations.
The archetypal mother and father contain both negative and
positive characteristics that may or may not correspond to
actual qualities of the personal parents. A child rejected by
her mother, for example, may carry an internal image of a good
and nourishing mother in an archetypal form: a good fairy
godmother image. Or a child whose parents project only the
nurturant qualities may carry an image of a stern, judgmental
father whose rules and regulations are to be followed as
strictly as if they were set by the personal father.
As these archetypal images emerge to compensate for life
experiences, they can be very helpful to a child who needs a
sustaining force to balance a one-sided, often devastating,
outer experience. A girl of six in therapy had played for a long
time with a favorite toy witch. The girl admired her for her
magic but feared her potential to destroy children. One day an
Oriental figure was also chosen from the toy shelves. Unknown to
her, it was Kwan Yin, goddess of compassion and protector of
children. She placed these in a balanced position with each
other. In this play, she rep-resented a balance of both the
destructive and nurturant forces in her own psyche.
As the child matures, the characteristics of the personal
parents become distinct from the archetypes. In adolescence, the
difference between archetypal and personal parents can become
clear, helping the ego in its task of freeing itself from
distorted views of the personal parents. A fourteen-year-old
boy, having just drawn an exceedingly ugly creature, said, "This
is the witch that was my mother." He had removed the projection
of the negative feminine from his mother, a projection that had
been useful as a balance for her overly nurturing attitude
The child's ego can be nurtured by its connection to the
archetypal world, and through this connection the child's
capacity for handling its personal world is increased. Later,
when archetypal forms are released from this projection onto the
parent, an individual can experience their power as spiritual,
non-personal forces. They originate in the depths of the soul,
connecting the individual personality to the universal forms in
However, there is a danger for some children of becoming lost in
the archetypal world and of not developing their own egos. The
archetypal world becomes a haven from pain or an escape from the
necessary struggle to develop and survive in the personal world.
Such children remain identified with the archetypes, playing
Cinderella to the jealous stepmother or the prince to the royal
father. The task of the therapist is to assist in the removal of
these projections and identifications, not by the denial of
their reality, but by helping the child to integrate these
images into an ordinary human life. In her work at St. George
Homes, Romankiw creates an environment in which highly disturbed
adolescents can explore the archetypal myth with which they are
identified. The children are helped to carry the myth to its
completion, thereby making use of the dynamic of the myth but
freeing themselves from its possession of them. In this way they
are released to explore other imaginal options through which
live their lives.
The Child and Imagination
The images of witch and Kwan Yin, mandala flower and desert
queen, may help reveal the power of symbols in the growth
process. The energy behind such symbols, expressing itself in
archetypal images, has transformative power.
Through a symbol, the imagination creates a vision of health or
wholeness, focusing and channeling the images of life libido
toward that end. In addition, the action needed to move toward
that goal is stimulated by the energy of the symbol itself.
Imagination is the source of symbols and images and is therefore
a prime source of healing. For the child, imagination is innate,
a natural realm of experience. Images appear spontaneously in
fantasy, story, and play, and are expressed in painting, song,
At first, these images may present an opposition, or split, or
blockage of energy, such as those caused by fear or anger –
example, monsters, or a fight between angels and devils. When
these images are honored, and the tension behind them is
accepted and made conscious, a healing symbol or action may
appear that transcends the opposites or releases the energy that
has been blocked. This can be so profound that physical as well
as emotional releases take place.
A small boy had difficulty with fine motor coordination. He had
trouble tying his shoes and became the target for teasing in
kindergarten. He had the following dream:
Dream: I was in a Magic Castle in a black box, and my feet were
locked in golden chains. I kicked and kicked my way out and got
free. I knew it was a Magic Castle because I could tie my shoes
that I kicked off.
The action in the dream imagery was so intense and effective
that, to everyone's amazement, he could indeed tie his shoes the
Such helping images can come in dreams, but they also come in
fantasy and through the use of creative media. An adolescent
girl who had not menstruated by the age of sixteen did a series
of drawings. The first showed a rigidity of conflict between
sexuality and religion. The second was a stunning image of the
sun radiating its full power to the earth. This series of
pictures had the effect of releasing the menstrual flow in the
A child's images may not be as powerful and dramatic as these,
but they can be used as guideposts and helpful signs along the
road of development. They may reflect the imagery of myth and
fairy tale, with under-ground passageways leading to new worlds,
talking animals that become totems, monsters and creatures from
outer space, hurricanes and floods, long sea voyages in search
of a special island, and so on. These images and imagined
actions lead children forward into the unknowable adventures in
their worlds, giving them practice in being heroes, princesses,
or dragons, and supporting their ego development.
In therapy a child meets an adult with whom to share this
imaginative journey. The therapist is an adult who can act as
guide and protector: a Hermes of the healing process. How does
I meet with the parents first, to hear their reasons for wanting
to place the child in therapy. I ask for some history of the
child and its place within the family. I want to know about its
birth, its health, its relationship to school and friends, and
any particular view the parents have of the child's strengths
and weaknesses. In this interview, I try to remain aware of the
special ways in which the parents describe the child, giving
evidence of their own value systems and expectations, and of
their way of nurturing and disciplining. I also want to know
about the state of the marriage and any personal psychological
issues within the parents.
Some therapists prefer to see the child in this interview. I do
not. Children may all too easily feel overwhelmed by the adult
descriptions of their problems. I would rather make the first
contact with the child alone. I try to set aside even the
parents' description so that the vision and experience of this
child is as fresh to me as possible.
It is of primary importance, however, to be as empathic with the
parent as with the child. Only in this way is the whole world of
the child properly sensed. It can also happen that a subtle
polarization occurs between parents and therapists, and this
must be guarded against. The therapist's task is to provide an
atmosphere in which the Self of the child can be constellated.
Although the transference is useful in this, it is quite
different from simply being a better parent.
The parents need to support the process of therapy as much as
possible, so as not to undercut it with jealousy or guilt. Since
parents have taken the initiative to bring the child for
therapy, their action needs to be respected and emphasized.
For this reason, I try to tell the parents as much as I can
about the way I will be working with their child. I explain that
while the child and I work together, the work will be private;
that the process must be protected until some resolutions and
strengths are gained. During therapy the parents will frequently
request a consultation. These meetings can be useful if
necessary for the child, or if the parents need assurance that
the therapy is progressing. However, I have always talked this
over with the child be-forehand and have explained the content
of the consultation afterward in such a manner that the child
understands and feels included. In this way, the bond of
therapist and child is kept intact.
This does not mean that the parents' world can be ignored by the
therapist if the parents do not ask to be involved. Disturbances
of growth can be created by the family system, either from
harmful actions or distortions on the part of the parents. In
some cases, the problems of the parents are of such intensity
that it is wise to suggest that they also enter therapy, not
only to free space for their child, but to resolve their own
On the other hand, it should never be forgotten that the psyche
of the child has great potential strength within it. As this
strength is developed, the child experiences health and
energetic involvement in life as coming from its own inner
resources. It is not totally dependent upon an external
arrangement of life circumstances. There is a sense of active
participation in change, instead of the sense that life can only
be improved if the external environment is changed by others.
The ego of the child is vitalized by experiencing its own power
and capacity for creating change. In addition, if the child
begins to carry the energy of health, the dynamic of the family
will be affected. I have seen many families whose overall
well-being has been positively affected by the work of one child
in establishing its own health.
In general, the issue of how to deal with parents in child
therapy is, like every other issue, dependent on the
individuality of the child, its particular gifts, limitations,
and needs, as well as on the sensitivities of the therapist in
providing and supporting the best possible environment for the
development of the child's soul.
I am flooded with images of the many children coming into my
work place for the first time. They come to a strange place, to
a strange person, and for a strange event. Usually children have
come not out of their own motivation or intent but out of that
of parents, school, or doctor. They may be afraid, shy,
resistant, or eager. It is a pleasure to invite them into a
space we will share and to make them as comfortable as possible.
I show them around, and then I visit with them as I would with
any stranger that I welcomed into my place. I do not probe for
problems or attempt a diagnosis, except as I intuitively feel
the issues. Above all, I watch and listen and observe, with
acceptance and love, this full human being that has come into my
life. I begin listening to their stories in the many ways
children tell them, sometimes in silence, sometimes sharing,
through gesture and postures of the body, and through the
quality and sound of the voice.
The first session always reminds me of a primitive ritual for
meeting strangers who approach the village. It is customary in
some places for strangers to circle the village three times,
while the residents and visitors get a chance to know each other
through careful observation. This is what I imagine as we share
histories—my family and interests and theirs.
One of the reasons I find child therapy so challenging is that
whatever the child brings, or is, must be faced directly. The
child has very little overlay of developed personality and no
accumulation of life experiences or problems to discuss. We are
left face-to-face with immediate feelings, sensitivities, and
emotions. These are displayed directly and through imagery and
play, and they cannot be obscured as easily as with an adult by
verbal analysis or intellectual discussion.
It is rare indeed that a child enters this process with a sense
of having a problem. That is usually a perception of parents or
the school. Children experience directly their pain, loneliness,
fear, confusion, joy, excitement, boredom, wonder. These are the
raw alchemical ingredients that they bring to their adventure
with the therapist.
Not only do children present themselves directly, but their
expectations are equally direct. The honesty of children with
regard to the integrity and presence of the therapist can be
unnerving. I once worked with a small boy whose grave
seriousness was charming, and I found myself frequently smiling
at this until he said one day, "This is a serious business. You
are old enough to know that, and much too old to giggle."
One of the primary requisites of the child therapist is to be
able to listen and observe on many levels of communication.
Children are not always able to verbalize how they feel
directly, and the fear, pain, frustration, or anger may be
expressed in some highly imaginative way. A little girl, whose
mother felt the child was overly concerned with death, told me
the story of the "Monster of Love." The monster made a rose that
smelled so sweet you could not resist it, but the minute you
picked it you died. This is reminiscent of the poisoned apple
the witch-mother offers to Snow White. In truth, the mother had
not wanted this child, and as a compensation she overindulged
the girl with too many material things. Through the story the
child was communicating to me the pain of this ambiguity, the
seduction of the love that was not truly nourishing to the
heart, and even deadly. In receiving communications of this sort
and understanding them, the therapist provides a sense of
acceptance and shared reality for a child whose secret is either
too painful or dangerous to share, or for which there are as yet
It should be noted that it is not always necessary or even
advisable to interpret these communications back to the child.
It is an assumption of this mode of therapy that the child has
already made a clear statement, either directly or indirectly
through a symbolic form. This statement is in itself the
beginning of a process, the initial ingredient. Therapists need
only communicate their understanding and appreciation of
statements like these in such a way that the process can
continue. To do this therapists must create out of their own
being what Kalff so beautifully describes as a "free and
sheltered space." Enthusiasm for the child-spirit is helpful in
this. It is also necessary for therapists to remember the
processes of development they experienced as children. Without
this memory, the necessary understanding and empathy are not
operative. If the child-state remains unconscious in therapists,
it is likely to be projected onto the child in therapy, and
adult therapists will find it difficult to be totally and freely
accepting of children as they are.
Therapists must also bring to their work an understanding of the
process of maturation. Their sense of where the journey may lead
subtly entices children onward to their own adulthood. It is of
prime importance that therapists know of the healing power of
the unconscious from their own personal experience, as well. In
order to have this knowledge, they must have experienced the
power of symbols to change the course of life.
It is essential that therapists be aware of any inhibitions they
may have with regard to the direct work that children require.
Fear of using creative media, of expressing emotions directly,
or of being active physically should be acknowledged and worked
through. All of these are forms used by children to experiment
with life and to help the physical body, the emotions, the
imagination, and the developing mind to mature. These modes
must, therefore, be accepted as legitimate stages on which the
psychological complexities of life are worked out. If not, the
child's creative energies will be subtly stifled, as so often
happens anyway in our society. This does not mean that
therapists need to enter directly into such expressions of play
and creativity, but they must feel comfortable in allowing
children to use such expression. Otherwise, the inhibitions of
the therapist become a restrictive fence for the child.
In creating a therapeutic environment for children, it is
important to keep in mind, again, that it be a "free and
sheltered space." It should be a place in which the child feels
protected, private, and safe. Within these bounds, children
should feel free to move about, to make sounds, and to express
themselves fully. Most children will identify a space as "their"
workspace. Ideally, it is advisable to have access to the
outside and to a source of water.
In the therapeutic setting, material should be readily available
with which children can express their psychological processes.
This material may include sandplay resources, clay, art
materials, and craft materials, such as enamel kilns,
woodworking tools, soldering irons, and so on. Pup-pets are very
useful for storytelling, as are costumes. Musical instruments
and a space to dance are important for many children. Games such
as darts, chess, and ball games can be used at a particular
stage, when competition and skill are being explored by the
Play and games can be used at many levels and for different
purposes. A game of darts, for example, may allow for an
expression of aggression and for practice in competition, but at
the same time it can be used to develop skill in focusing and in
hitting the mark.
There is no limit to the possibilities of equipment that can be
used creatively by a child. Therapists can be on the alert for
the special needs of a particular child and add to the stock of
equipment as needed. I had a small piano in my office for years
that was rarely used. One day a fourteen-year-old boy discovered
it and began to play out two characters within himself on the
piano, allowing the dialogue to continue in this musical form
for weeks. The final harmonizing of these two characters
resulted in a song that was inspiring to both of us.
Sandplay is a powerful therapeutic agent in work with both
children and adults (cf. chapter by Stewart, above). The
technique is simple in form. A box of standardized size is made,
and two or three inches of fine sand are placed in it. Two trays
are generally used in therapy, one with damp sand and one with
dry. On shelves near the tray are miniature figures representing
many aspects of the outer world—people, buildings, trees,
plants, animals, vehicles—as well as figures representing the
inner world of fantasy and spirit—gods, demons, witches,
fairies, and so on. Children place these figures in a sand tray
and make a miniature world scene. The sand itself may also, of
course, be molded and shaped. The great value of this
therapeutic tool lies in its ability to focus and contain the
symbolic expressions of the psyche.
Sandplay provides an opportunity for changing the old structures
of the world and creating new structures, as these are
envisioned by the psyche. It provides the ego of the child,
therefore, with greater power and effectiveness. In sandplay the
Self is activated, and this activation creates the foundation
for new psychological growth and movement. The communication of
the drama played out in the sand tray, when received by the
therapist with clear understanding of the symbolic meaning,
affects the unconscious and induces a spontaneous movement
toward growth in the child. It does this even if simply
received, without discussion. Sometimes, however, the therapist
may want to bridge the symbolic expression in the sand tray and
the outer world of the child by a simple interpretation or
suggestion, offering the child a different perspective or
direction in its daily life.
Art forms such as painting, drawing, and sculpting can also be
used as channels for transformative energies. Here again, as
with sandplay, free expression provides a vessel for the
manifestation of symbols that portray important influences in
the personality. The energy of the unconscious process is
contained within a work of art produced by a child. The child
then in turn reacts to the energy that the product contains.
Drawings or clay pieces thus begin to inform their
consciousness. A dialogue begins between the expressed manifest
form and the observer. As observers, children begin to gain
acquaintance and make a bond of friendship with the expressions
of the Self.
Archetypal images, such as monsters or angels, or expressions of
strong affects, such as anger or fear or love, are experienced
by the child. Once drawn or sculpted. these take on a definite
shape. and the child can recognize and handle them. This is
similar to the mask-making activity of primitive peoples. who
also can identify their honored and feared unconscious "figures"
in these forms. When these forces are known, their energies can
be usefully integrated into life. Monsters and angels can become
familiar. even friendly. They can represent carriers of powerful
energies, useful to the child as it moves into the world.
Story, Poetry, Dance, and Music
For many children, words and sounds are more natural creative
tools than visual forms. Explorations of image and fantasy can
be made through storytelling. plays. puppet shows, and poetry
just as well as they can through visual media. What is
important. as in the visual forms, is that the true individual
creation of the child does, indeed. emerge, and not an imitation
based on an idea of performance.
One little girl completed her therapy with a cycle of songs
called. "The New Seasons." Writing songs was a very eloquent
mode for her, since she was more facile with sound than with
paint. Although such expressions as these may be only a
temporary form of self-expression, stimulated by the work of
therapy, one does occasionally uncover a gift that needs further
support and development.
Movement or dance is another possible form of expression (cf.
chapter by Chodorow, above). With an individual child, the
therapist may have to join in the dance to create a free
environment for movement. This experience can also be a joyous
sharing for the therapist.
Poetry touches very important areas in the child, since it
consists of metaphor and image. Topics that are very difficult
to share, such as birth and death and pain, can often be
expressed in the shaped container of a poem. Haiku is a simple
form that can be used by children. As with any form, the goal is
not performance but the containment and expression of images in
forms that allow healing psychic forces to emerge in the child.
Children may bring dreams to the therapist, especially now that
an interest in sharing dreams has taken hold in the larger
society. When parents honor their own dreams and those of their
children, children are more apt to share them in the intimacy of
the therapeutic process. Although the usual analytical
discussion of dream content is often inappropriate with a child,
the contents can be indirectly explored for their meaning in the
context of the child's life. Often this can be done through
continuing the procession of images in painting, puppetry, or
storytelling. This is what I often call "second chaptering." The
child then brings itself actively into contact with the images,
and this activity can help to integrate the material into life.
When children share dreams, they may be communicating to the
therapist that there are overwhelming forces that need managing
or intervention by the therapist. Sometimes these dreams have to
do with confusion and fear created by misinformation about
certain of life's mysteries, such as sex, birth, or death. On
the other hand, dreams may reflect outer circumstances, such as
family dynamics. The child's psyche is greatly influenced by the
life of the parents, the school, and even larger events, such as
disasters and celebrations. Since children still live largely in
unconscious identification with their parents, they remain
profoundly open to these influences.
The therapist has the opportunity to provide boundaries and a
protected container for the child who shares dream material.
Together, a plan can be drawn up for the use of the material.
Specific tasks can be given to the child if a dream points to a
need for ego-strengthening. Sometimes objective information
needs to be given to clear up distortions. Sometimes
intervention with parents or with the school is needed if these
forces are too destructive.
The content of children's dreams is vast. There are, naturally,
the nightmares. These often contain unknown, devouring figures
and forces: ocean waves and hurricanes, monsters and snakes,
lions and tigers, robots and machines – all of which may be
overwhelming to the nascent ego. Some dreams picture the child's
developing consciousness: an island, a candle, a new plant or
animal, a star. Other dreams portray profound archetypal
patterns and motifs from the realms of gods and demons. Others
are clearly responses to daily life, involving fantasies,
wishes, hurts. Others contain unconscious contents belonging to
parents. This happens frequently, and in the sharing of a dream
the child may be helped to release this psychic overload. For
example, one boy whose father was experiencing great rage that
was neither expressed nor transformed dreamed that every time he
sat in his father's chair, it burst into flames. It was
necessary to discuss then with the father the enormous burden
and fear the boy was carrying. The father began to take
responsibility for his anger, relieving the boy of this pressure
and thereby freeing his son's energies for his own life.
Whatever the contents, all dreams should be treated with honor
as profound offerings of the child.
The work between the child and therapist begins at its own pace.
It is the art of therapy to provide the means for sharing. Once
allowed into the child's psychological world, the therapist must
offer opportunities for healing to take place. Some children
find it easier to work in therapy through imaginative play,
others through sharing of dreams, others through games, and some
through the relationship with the therapist alone. The therapist
must be open to any option that will facilitate the flow of
psychic life. The sensitivity to the child must be twofold:
first, the child must be assisted in developing an ego that will
be effective in the world: second, the particular pattern of
this individual being must be recognized and nourished.
A sense of these two aspects of the work is essential, and is
responsible for creating the exciting challenge of therapy with
children. The individual uniqueness of a child will be displayed
in the child's own pace and timing, through action, through
dreams, and through fantasy and imaginative play. Diagnosis and
objective description of a child's psyche, and a plan for the
work that can lead to growth for the child, must be derived from
the child's own expressions.
As the child leads the therapeutic process forward, the
therapist must remain aware of the deeper dynamics that are
being expressed. The gesture, action, emotion, artistic product,
or play must be responded to with direct empathic understanding.
The symbol-maker in the therapist must be able to receive
directly the symbol-maker in the child. Often this means
by-passing logical or verbal analysis. So often the gold mine of
imagery for self-creation that emerges from a child can be
overlooked if the emphasis is on "cure" or "solving the problem"
or "normalcy." While adaptation to the collective is an
essential ingredient in the maturation of a child, it should not
be achieved at the expense of, but rather with the help of, the
child's individual and creative response to life.
As this self-creation takes place in the "free and sheltered"
place provided by the therapist, the healing process also
emerges. The energies of the Self are constellated, and the ego
is strengthened to take on the task of the world. The timing of
this entry into the world usually coincides with termination.
Exceptions occur, of course, with moves, vacations, illnesses,
and the withdrawal of children from therapy by parents.
In almost all cases, the child knows the pace and extent of the
therapy. Sometimes children will say directly that they need
come only one or two times more. Sometimes the communication
will be indirect, as when they prefer a party or a baseball game
to the therapy session. So often, the attachment of the child to
the process of life is greater than the attachment to the
therapist. If the course of therapy has been successful,
termination is anticipated symbolically or by an action that
indicates the child's desire to try its own wings in the world.
At this stage I have seen sandplay images or drawings of a car
or bicycle that is moving in an arc out of the tray or drawing.
It is as though the work of therapy is seen by the psyche as
part of the totality of the life process, and the vehicle has
been placed on course for the arc of the journey. It is the joy
of the therapist, equally nonattached, to say, "Good
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