Edith Sullwold 
 Edith Sullwold Archive

"Treatment of Children in Analytical Psychology" by Edith Sullwold, Ph.D.

Reprinted by permission of Open Court Publishing Company, a division of Carus Publishing Company, Peru, IL,
Jungian Analysis 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 its life.

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 or analyst.

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 order to 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 individuation proceed.

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 the culture.

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 standardized norm.

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 nature.

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 overwhelming.


The Child and the Self

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 child.

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 totality.

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 tasks.

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 toward him.

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 humanity.

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
to 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, and dream.

At first, these images may present an opposition, or split, or blockage of energy, such as those caused by fear or anger – for 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 next day!

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 girl.

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 it begin?



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 conflicts.

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.


The Child

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."


The Therapist

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 no words.

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 child.

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.

 Painting and Clay

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 journeying."

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