A Chapter from “Deep Play: “Exploring Depth in Psychotherapy with Children”, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London, 2015. NOT RE-PRINTABLE FOR SALE
In the next few sessions, Victor began speaking to me about his fears – fears about what was in his bedroom closet around the time of his father’s bout with cancer, and the confusing fears more recently when his brother was driving and drinking with
Victor in the car before his removal for treatment. I wondered how Victor could trust anyone after such an experience and decided to test how the trust was between us. As our bataka battles continued, I asked Victor to fight me blindfolded. Quietly, he allowed me to place a red silk scarf over his eyes, which had known such fear. Relying only on his hearing and intuition to sense how close or far I might be, he threw himself into the fray and held me off with courage.
Inspired by Dennis, I had also started a “hitting contest” (McCarthy, 2012, p. 149) for young people in my practice who I have taught to pound on a large foam cube with a bataka in order to build up and discharge energy and aggression. For this purpose, I printed and hung a chart above the cube, displaying, for confidentiality, the first initial of the hitter’s name next to the number of whacks. After initial “grounding” which I demonstrated to Victor, by putting my sock-covered feet one by one on the padded handle end of a tennis racket while taking some weight off the other, I asked him to “choose his weapon.” Selecting the solidity and firmness of a heavy Dutch-made bataka, he hit the cube 115 times in his first attempt. He seemed to enjoy this and as he noticed the numbers of “hits” by other contestants growing each week, he would move ahead of the pack at each succeeding session.
I also spoke with Victor about his Attention Deficit diagnosis, re-defining it as Attention Possible” as I like to do for my clients diagnosed with ADHD. He smiled briefly at this and moved on to what so many of the young people with attention issues do with equipment they find in my office – work on balance. For Victor this involved vertically balancing a tennis racket with the bottom of its handle on one palm. This soon morphed into a contest, in which he challenged me on who could balance the racket longest. He was pleased with the result. Victor – 55 seconds, Neal - 3. To further support the belief that this young man could recover his balance and build self-confidence, even in the midst of family difficulty, I began asking Victor to “widen his vision” as he worked to maintain balance on a physical and symbolic level. Could his awareness broaden while engaged in “racket practice” to include items on the shelves in the room? Could he slow down enough to take in this wider view while staying on task?
As Victor’s evolution, from “liquid to solid” was progressing in and beyond the sand box he also seemed to be opening to a larger palette of materials and places where his work might take place. At one session, he built a boat out of empty plastic bottles, clay and sticks at one session and launched it into a lake in nearby Central Park to which we had walked. When I spoke to him about my concern that the plastic bottles might end up in the landfill rather than be re-cycled, he emerged at the next session triumphant with a boat tethered to twine that would not float away. While Victor demonstrated increasing ability in session to tether his creativity within a framework of boundaries and rules, reports from his parents about him were also improving. After a session involving the entire family, where we discussed alternatives to what was described by the parents as a “prison” in which evening and weekend time was spent monitoring Victor’s school work, he had taken on the responsibility of writing and completing essays for admission to boarding school and had also launched his own snow shoveling business with neighboring boys at his weekend house in rural upstate New York.
Victor welcomed the new deep and waterproof box I had built in response to his “flooding” by taking off his shoes and stepping, barefoot into the sand. In the next session, digging deeply and up to his elbows in sand, he excavated a single, yawning canyon in the center of the box surrounded by pile-up on all sides. Into this hole, he placed an empty basketball-sized translucent glass globe, the type used for terrariums. Carefully he nestled the piles around it until the sand was level with the open circular lip of the globe. Now it was time for the water. Walking from the box to the sink, and back again, he slowly filled the globe in silence, moving, almost as if sleepwalking, between source and container, bringing clear water to clear glass.
Helping “depth work” to happen with children like Victor was not easy for me at first, especially in the arena of expressive arts that went beyond words. I often felt quite anxious as they created worlds of sand and clay, paper and ink. Was my role just to watch or could I be more active? To soothe my own restlessness, I had taken on a parallel practice, where I wrote my responses in poetry as children expressed themselves through images and structure, reaching for my own inner depth in service of children who were sharing their worlds with me. I did this as Victor’s globe filled.
Water contained in layers of multi-colored sand.
Deep box smoothing the creative urge, magnifying my own clear growth.
Lights dance in crystal round-ness,
My own hands pressing into the mountain.
As the water reached the top of the globe, Victor smoothed the surface of the sand to create a single seamless edge between substances. Each of us smiled, thrilled by the thin glass separating clear, round translucence from sand whose color had deepened to auburn where water had touched it. If asked by a client, I am willing to share my words but that day, Victor did not ask. Silently, he moved to the shelves, selecting a giant purple octopus, my largest sea creature, which he swished and whirled through the currents of water he was generating. This continued for several minutes, his eyes mesmerized and sparkling in the reflected light. Then suddenly, as if a spell has been broken, the boy removed the octopus, plucked four golden fish from the shelves and carefully placed them in the water-filled globe, urging them through the undulating waves of light with his fingers (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Victor’s globe
Sea creatures rest in the deep waters and emerge
In the silence, my hand
My strong hand
in the water
Victor looked at me with calm deliberation and told me that he would like me to leave this creation for other people to see and make their own additions. I was moved, tears welling up in my own eyes. This was my last session with a child before going on vacation and I resolved to leave the box as it was until I returned. I did have one more session scheduled with adults that week, Victor’s parents. Dennis had wisely observed in an earlier supervision session, “As this boy changes, either the family will shift…or it will explode.” The day after Victor filled his globe, his parents sat in an adjoining room and told me they planned to separate. I felt sadness and grief, glad that I would be leaving for a much needed vacation.
Nothing could have prepared me for what awaited me a week later when my time away had ended. I looked at the deep box in amazement and shock. The weight of the watery globe had vertically split the seams of the box on two of its sides. It would require repair before the next child could use it as an instrument for self-expression and healing.