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Popsicle Sticks as Therapy Tools

Example photo of a craft stick bridge.

Example photo of a craft stick bridge. Not client work.

In working with children, which is amongst the client populations I work with, you need to be particularly creative.  I need to meet them with an art material which will be simple enough to manipulate, not add too much frustration, yet also have the means for a wide range of self expression, and to build their skills at frustration tolerance, encourage step by step thinking, be calming in it’s “one thing at a time” process, and also encourage them to think of the end result and structure their project so that they can get the results they want.

I have found it.  In the simple popsicle stick, or as they call them in craft stores “craft sticks”.

They are sold in boxes of over 500 pieces or in smaller amounts.  They come in the traditional wood as well as multicolored.  They are now coming in smaller sizes, or have slats to use them to build, similar to “Lincoln Logs” of long ago in order to be able to construct without using glue.

So what is so great about using a common craft item in therapy with a child, in particular, you may ask?

The repetitive motion of piling up one stick upon another,, the “building upon” motion that is calming and also allows a child to solve problems that could be structural that have to do with the stability and sturdiness of the bridge itself.  Kids have to take their time, be systematic, develop patience and communication skills, learn about structure and how to build a sturdy structure that will not fall apart, and how one will access (or not access) the bridge at it’s beginning, middle or end point.  This is all used in metaphor to work with different issues kids might be dealing with.  The bridge can be used as a metaphor about going to visit on visitations, and going back and forth between divorced or separated parents, or it can be used as a metaphor of how one can “get over” one’s struggles, whether it be impulsivity issues (Bridges made with craft sticks work especially well with children facing ADD or ADHD or other developmental issues), bullying issues or conflicts with peers or siblings.

In preparation for working with this project with clients, we look at different bridge structures and discuss what type of bridge the client wants to build.  A lot can be discerned by this.  How much support will your bridge have?  How will you get on or off your bridge?  Will cars use your bridge ( I have toy cars in the office which can be used on the bridge as well) or will it be a bridge for “foot traffic” only?  All of this is useful diagnostically.

Bridges can then be expanded by painting and decorating them, which only adds to the metaphor be explored and increases the client’s self expression.  These sticks can also be used to build other structures such as “houses” or “boxes”, but I have found the bridge and it’s metaphors particularly useful.  Craft or “popsicle” sticks are a  tool that can yield so much!

Fully Listening

2014-08-08 18.36.16At times, when working with a client, they will come in based on one complaint or condition, sometimes purely mental health related, at other times, also related and having an impact on their physical health.    It is important as a therapist to listen with fully open ears, because your best laid plans for a session can come undone quickly based on what has occurred for a client in the last few days.

We must track not only what the client is telling us verbally, but non-verbally as well.  An anxious phone call before a session might signal an event which the client won’t even mention during the phone call, but that I will find out once the session commences.  A dropped subject may signal that the client didn’t feel as if they were fully heard.  Sometimes, a client, either due to shame or self blame will avoid bringing to the table a topic that needs to be addressed in sessions.

This is the reason why, besides incorporating art therapy, I have felt it necessary to be trained in a body oriented therapy like Sensorimotor psychotherapy or a therapy where “body scans” play a key role in processing an event or trauma, like in EMDR.  What comes across in our bodies, through feeling or sensation can tell us an awful lot about ourselves!  I truly believe this and the latest research in neuroscience is proving it

Not only myself as the therapist “truly” listening with non-verbal “ears”, but the client growing as well in learning to discernment and self-awareness to listen to their own body signals and sensations, to get at the root core of what the emotions are that they are feeling.  We run so much in this society on “automatic pilot” and exhibiting acting out, or reacting behaviors that we don’t understand at all why we are expressing ourselves as we do.  This is where mindfulness, being aware of every moment, taking it in moment by moment, and slowing down to notice, is key in keeping ourselves grounded and acting in proportion to what we are facing from others and the world around us.

In therapy, it is a two-way dyad.  the mindfulness, or awareness of it, on the therapist’s end will increase it on the client’s end.   And to be “fully listening” is a big part of this.

The Benfit of Getting to the Issue

While many therapists who work with children and teens view themselves as “child focused”, in the tradition of the great Carl Rodgers, who brought a sensitive and inspiring way to work with children to the fore in the world of psychology, there are times in sessions that a therapist needs to be focused on the issue at hand and address it with the client, while also encouraging the child or teen to explore their own self-expression.  Sometimes issues of why a family is coming into therapy need to be brought to the surface, and it may not always be comfortable for those in treatment, whether parent or child. The same is true with working with adults, there is a balance of going where the client needs to go, but the therapist, working as a partner in healing, will need at times to bring up feelings, situations, or other issues to aid the client in moving forward.

The goal of therapy is not to leave every session feeling wonderful. Sometimes, you may not feel “so wonderful” after each session. The goal is self discovery, at a pace that is guided by the client but with facilitation with the therapist as your partner, not director or CEO. This is why allowing for alternate modes of communication, such as in art therapy, or other modalities such as EMDR can be so helpful. Self discovery can be similar to rock climbing, which can be an adventure and have its challenges. But the feeling of accomplishment is unmatched when one reaches the “summit” or gets to the place in self discovery where the see their own resilience, strength and beauty as an individual shining through, not matter what they have faced in the past.

My philosophy in working with my clients, is that I will never “force” an issue if the client is not ready, but there are also times when some direction is definitely needed, hence the need for a treatment plan in writing and checking in with the client regularly to make sure that the client’s personal goals for therapy are being met in a timely and attentive fashion.

Do you have any questions? Are you considering starting therapy? Please do not hesitate to contact me at or 862-210-9459 for a free 15 minute consultation.

I wish you the best as we start this new year.

Just Digging Around…

IMG_5664Often, in our lives, we put on layer after layer.  I am not talking here about clothing, (Winter has just about arrived, after all, in the Northeast!), but about the cycles our lives go through, and instead of resolving each cycle before we move on to the next, we simply “skip” over and go onto the next latest thing.  Our culture of immediate internet based communication in the past 20 or so years has only encouraged and quickened the emergence of this culture of not attaching or resolving before moving onto the next phase of our life.  It could be about a job, a romantic relationship, a family relationship, a friendship or acquaintanceship, or anything that has to do with our interactions with the others in our lives.

Some of this “skipping” could be done not to face any pain that may have ensued during the relationship, an avoidance of anger or trauma (which isn’t always a bad thing).  But it also enables the ease of “moving on” without reflection or thinking.  These patterns of behavior are also coming out in relationships we do not discard, like our family relationships.  Instances I think of are families that can be in the same house together and not speak to each other for an entire day, families that do not eat together, and families who may speak briefly on the phone with each other but do not go out of their way to physically see one another and be together.  This is especially true in North American culture, and not all cultures have this mode of distancing in them, although I do believe with the advent of technology change has occurred to all to some degree.

In my own personal form of art making that I have enjoyed of late, Encaustic Painting, involves the use of bee’s wax, Damar varnish and colored IMG_0938pigment to make a wax based paint that is put on in layers.  Items can be embedded in the wax like drawings, objects, different forms of papers and more.  But you do not only add layers, you also take them off by scraping and burning off wax using tools and fire.  The beauty can be found in what is underneath the latest layer and you are “building up an archeology” in your own art work by putting a “history” into the work by adding the foundational early layers of wax in various colors and materials first and then adding final layers which you may leave “as is” or expose through digging or scratching through the wax based paint.  The wax lays in layers, much like the rock layers in the picture to your left, where a crack developed and which were exposed through a centuries ago earthquake.  Look at the beauty that the “shake up” of the earth revealed!

Using my encaustic painting as a metaphor, how much more of a stable foundation we could have if we were willing to “burn through” the surface layers of our lives to find the beauty of the earlier, foundational layers that existed before?  This means exploration and getting to know ourselves, and could be the greatest journey we undertake in our entire lives.  It does take courage, as some of us may have undergone trauma, but the end result, validating and empowering, as well as getting to know yourself, is more than worth it.  Even if we cannot face “all of our layers”, if others, for example, have moved on or are no longer with us, we can at least explore these layers of our lives,  validate them, and learn from them.  Building self awareness and self validation can be some of the greatest gifts you can give yourself this holiday season.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at



Your Childhood Does Not Define YOU.

Your Childhood Does Not Define You.

Some allow whom they were pigeonholed with as an identity when they were children in their family to define their entire lives.

Witness a middle aged man I know, who has built a successful career as a behavioral health professional, but who as a child, had to deal with a family where put downs and being told “You don’t have what it takes” were often heard, What these adults told him did resonate in his head for a long time.  As a young man going through college, he stopped and almost didn’t complete his degree, thinking to himself “What would it matter anyway”, and hearing his family’s voices in his head, thinking he would just be another overeducated professional with no skills to find a job.  But what got him beyond this to build a successful career as a behavioral health professional that he has today?

All it took was one person.

Yes, you heard me right, one person.  This person believed in him, saw talent and potential based on his gifts and gave him through positive statements and other support the strength to move ahead towards his goals by finishing his education, finishing his internships and eventually getting hired at one of his internship sites at his first job.  He is now using his experience to help others move ahead with their lives.

We tend to think that we need a multitude of resources to get “past our past” but the opposite is true.  There have been cases of children who have lived through abuse, neglect and other horrible childhood circumstances that had one person, yes one person, a friend, a neighbor, a particularly sensitive relative, who saw what was going on in a dysfunctional family and was able to reach out and help that child enough so that they would have the confidence to move forward.

I could list here many resources, particularly in the Internet age, of support groups, organizations, etc. that help adults who have lived through horrible circumstances be able to succeed.  There are many out there and they aren’t hard to find.  But all it really takes is one person, one spark of confidence, a few genuine positive remarks…to give someone going through either a tormented present or thinking about their traumatic past to move ahead, and the confidence to achieve their goals.  It is like being given a thin lifeline, when someone is overboard and drifting in the ocean, you grab onto it, and it pulls you back up on the boat and gets you to your destination.

So we don’t really need a multitude of resources.  The resiliency within us wants us to heal and be strong.  Just like a cut of our skin has a scab grow over it to aid it’s healing, we have the inner resources in each one of us that with at least one positive person in our lives, can pull us through.  Of course resources such as online in real-time support groups as well as our own personal therapy can strengthen us and aid us in this quest, and should be used to help us go further down the line of emotional recovery.

Neuroscience is proving how our brains, like the rest of our bodies, are largely programmed for self-healing.  Expressing ourselves through our own creativity aids this tremendously, and allows us to put our past out there in a non-verbal manner, which allows us to digest whatever painful past we are dealing with and be able to integrate it and allow distance ourselves from it.  Are you dealing with some sort of pain in your life?  Find your own creative way to express it, this will not only allow you to put out there whatever happened and move on, but you shouldn’t be surprised to see that others will see or hear what you have created and be able to relate, so it is a way of joining a community out there of other people who have experienced similar issues in their own childhoods.  Find a mentor or therapist who supports your creative expression, in whatever form it takes, art, blogging, music, or anything where you feel you are expressing yourself in your truest form.  You can be proactive and be a partner in your own self-healing,

Begin your own revolution

Personal transformation can and does have global effects. As we go, so goes the world, for the world is us. The revolution that will save the world is ultimately a personal one.

As the quote from Marianne Williamson states on the intro page of this site, if you want things to change, you need to start with yourself. Doing self assessment, through counseling is the way to start. We are almost at the start of a new year. Where do you want to be a year from now? Let LifeBalance help you achieve the goals you are setting for yourself for the coming 12 months and beyond. Call 862-210-9459 to get started.