Fresh Insights on Corona Virus : What we can learn about ourselves and othersTelling someone who is scared not to be is about as supportive and effective as telling someone who is ranting to calm down.
It doesn’t work. It doesn’t help.
The thing about a big event like this pandemic is that it affects us. It restricts us. This invisible ‘thing’ is now the reason we cannot do what we want to do. We cannot live the way we want to. We cannot travel. We cannot work. We cannot go visit our family who may be sick. Even if we are not feeling the physical effects of the virus, many of us are feeling our lives be curtailed by this thing we didn’t see coming.
Some of us are ok with it.
Being calm is easy. Empathy abounds. We have no problem seeing ourselves as a significant member of our national / global community. We are flexible, resourceful, creative. Being logical is no big deal.
But for some of us it can leave us feeling overwhelmed. Feeling small. Feeling powerless.
And if there is any event back in the earlier pages of our life story where something happened that had us feeling these same feelings; small, overwhelmed, dis-empowered, then our current reality may well be accompanied by the music of that time. Our body instinctively moving the same dance: muscles extra tight. Our heart rate elevated. Our breathing quicker and our view of the world the same : not a happy or safe place to be. We have to give in. We want to hide.
We want to whisper “please don’t tell me to stop feeling scared. You have no idea of the nightmares that have been triggered in me. My body remembers… This is how things are. We are being overwhelmed by this ‘thing’. We can’t get away… it’s out to get us and it will. That’s just how it is.”
And for some of us it can leave us feeling on edge. Anxious. Wondering what is coming next. Waiting for the inevitable… next.
Because if there are moments, even far back in our story, where we lived this way before, where we were used to being on the look-out, waiting, anticipating the next bad thing to happen… we learnt that there is …. always… a next… And those harmonies will accompany our current experience. And our body will start that dance again… tight muscles, sweaty palms, racing thoughts, butterflies in the tummy and hyper-focusing on every detail of what is going on around us…
We want to beg “don’t tell me to not worry. Don’t tell me It’s nothing. I am scared, and my body remembers. I am at the mercy of this invisible force out to hurt us all. I need to watch its every move. Need to keep moving. To duck and dive, to run. I can smell it coming… my nightmares have begun again.”
And for some of us it can leave us feeling annoyed. Feeling angry. Feeling disrespected.
The echoes of not being noticed, not being honoured, from times gone by now pumping their revengeful war-dance through our entire system. We want to shout ”I will not be pushed around! I will not be dwarfed and belittled by this force. I will defend myself. Defend my rights. I will survive. I will do what it takes and keep moving. I am full of energy and I will shop and travel and keep living MY life on MY terms. I will make sure I am the bigger one this time! I cannot, will not, allow myself to do otherwise.”
You see for most of us right now – trying to be logical and explain facts will not help. We live from our nervous system state and if our body has us in a defense state (mobilise or shut down) then it is impossible to truly hear and comprehend facts. It is impossible to discern truth from hype. It is impossible for your brain to calm your body when your body memories have been a-woken and are screaming messages of un-safety at your brain.
So What CAN We Do now?
Let us not tell each other to calm down – but let’s lead ourselves. Let us be the change we want to see.
It is for each of us to really pay honest attention to our own response to this situation and extend ourselves some compassion and permission to listen to the music we are hearing. To listen out for the internal strains of fear, overwhelm, or defiance… To notice the dance we are doing in our body and quietly ask ourselves when we learnt those steps?
To consider what this experience reminds me of?
To pay attention to ourselves in a new and gentle way.
Because the truth is – it is unlikely we have actually lived this exact situation before.
The truth is that it just feels like we are unsafe now the way we were unsafe in the past…
Now we can notice ourselves and our body.
Now we can move – our arms and legs, we can get up, we can move from room to room, into the garden, or outside.
Now we can acknowledge the pent-up energy in our body and express it safely, or honour it and soothe it.
Now we can choose what we will focus on. We can listen to the story our body is singing and see where we may still need to befriend ourselves, to heal and to grow in order to bring that old music to a close.
Now we can reach out and connect with others who are safe for us. We can use technology and still benefit from their calming smile, their twinkly eyes, their soothing, honouring, respectful presence, and their ability to help us giggle our way to safety, and find logic and perspective again.
And when we are brought into a state of safety within, then and ONLY then, we can intentionally choose our own response to the way our life is being altered and find the good in it, the things we can be grateful for, the space, the time, the peace, the spontaneous fun.
This review appeared in the summer (2019) edition of Play for Life, an International journal for Play Therapists.
GROUNDED ~ Discovering the Missing Piece in the Puzzle of Children’s Behaviour
CHEW Initiatives, 2018
Paperback 131 pp
Claire Wilson has many years of experience in working with children, parents and teachers. Starting out as a teacher, a youth worker and helping to run retreats for adults, she became a play therapist in 2008. She is now an accredited play therapist, supervisor and has an MA in practice-based play therapy. Her vocation is further demonstrated through being the founder of CHEW initiatives, (chewinitiatives.com) and an advocate for children’s mental health.
“Grounded” is a concise text written for all adults that care for children both professionally and personally. It is written from the heart, with a genuine passion and dedication to enlightening and supporting the reader with the message that adults possess the most significant variable in influencing children’s behaviour. The book is engaging, very easy to read and has a clear, appealing layout with diagrams to illustrate the key points. Claire seamlessly incorporates evidence from neuroscience, predominantly Porges’ polyvagal theory, (with neuroception as a key element), and the work of Bruce Perry. She has astutely outlined this theory in a very accessible way. Case studies from her work and personal life are used throughout the text, really bringing the book to life. Practical ideas are also offered, lending it to being a book to revisit time and again.
Although not written specifically for Play Therapists, I believe that “GROUNDED” will be of deep interest to those at all levels, from just embarking on the certificate course, to seasoned practitioners. Claire highlights the link between the mind and body in a trauma informed and holistic approach, compatible with PTUK’s model. “Grounded” offers a powerful reminder about the value of human connection and relationships as the keystone to managing behaviour. The author accentuates the notion that all key adults can unwittingly influence the behaviour of children; I found it incredibly useful to have neuroception explained in terms of this impact. For me personally, this book has encouraged me to introspect on how my own physiological state is “neurocepted” by the children I work with. Equally, when attempting to unravel a child’s behaviour when the cause is not obvious, it has highlighted to me the significance of considering the influence of other key relationships. Consequentially, this has encouraged me to reconsider the benefits of working with parents alongside their children in these terms.
The author briefly outlines the trauma-healing modalities of somatic experiencing and TRE, in which she is trained. These may be of interest to more experienced practitioners as areas to consider for CPD.
Because of the considerate, supportive and straightforward writing style, this book is one I will recommend to parents and teachers; the author is non-judgmental and kind to the reader. Recently, I have delivered a staff meeting on de-escalation and found it useful to convey the key message I got from the book: Bodies speak louder than words; it is only when we are grounded that we can fully help a child to calm, (Wilson, 2018).
Claire Wilson’s genuine commitment to the message she delivers is demonstrated through an invitation to join an online supportive community in which adults can further explore their journeys in becoming more grounded. I thoroughly recommend this book to everyone who has a desire to influence children in a positive way. Not only is it informing, encouraging and supportive but offers an attainable way in which all adults, in becoming more grounded, can pave the way to enable children to be their best selves.
Helena Cole, PTUK Certified Play Therapist
While we all continue to raise our voices and advocate for better provision for the mental health of children and young people, we need to talk about what is already happening. It may be that we can make what is there even better, even more effective. Many organisations are suggesting we need a play therapist in every school – and don’t get me wrong, it would be a great step in the right direction – but there are certain things we need to talk about when it comes to therapy provided in school. Many schools around the country have taken the courageous decision to employ a qualified play therapist at least 1 day a week. Many schools know it is important and have fought to retain that provision through the crazy current budget situations. Many schools don’t realize what they have really done by doing that! What do I mean? Well beyond the obvious ‘we have employed a qualified mental health professional to work with a few of our children’ is hidden something else. It is this:
‘We have brought into our school, a mental health professional who works in a different way, with different priorities, different processes and a whole different way of thinking.’
Many schools and therapists actively say they value diversity, however, it is a common phenomenon across the country, that when therapists start working in schools, these differences, between their culture and school culture, if not handled proactively, can bring confusion, frustration and quiet animosity on both sides. Understanding the main points where these two cultures clash can bring real insight and when openly addressed actually improve the quality of the mental health provision for each child.
In a school a closed door is frequently hardly noticed (apart from the door to the Head’s office?) and is opened and often walked through without acknowledging it even existed. Any message it may be giving is unheard, un-acknowledged and not respected. Closed doors have little-to-no meaning, and whatever a person needs on the other side of the door, whatever activity is happening there that they will interrupt, they are allowed to proceed to their agenda. That is common door culture in schools. In the world of therapists a closed door is imbued with profound meaning. It is a sacred way of protecting a client. Helping them know they are safe here; there will be no interruption, intrusion or any distraction. It lets them know that this room, this space is for them. It lets them know that they are important, they are valuable. It reassures them that the often hideous things they have experienced that may have them feeling worthless and vulnerable, will not happen here. A respected closed door communicates to the hurting child that they, and the things they may need to concentrate on in this session, are IMPORTANT, will be HONOURED and are worth PROTECTING.
In schools change is the one constant. Room changes, timetable changes, lesson changes (curriculum changes and government focus changes!). One of the qualities of a proficient teacher is to be able to ‘go with the flow‘ be spontaneous and keep the learning agenda high whilst juggling, being flexible and creating ‘on the hoof’. In the therapy world consistency is another sacred way of showing respect for the client and the journey they need to make. Therapists will resist change and it is important that they do. Sessions need to be at the same time, on the same day, in the same place each week. Children learn very quickly when their session is, and that time and day becomes an anchor for them in their often turbulent weeks. Keeping things looking the same, and in the same place in the room (without items suddenly missing or being added) helps children develop relationship with the room as well as the therapist. It is a big part of helping a child feel safe and trusting this space. I will never forget the child who made a card to stick on the cupboard before he left his last play therapy session before the Christmas holidays. What did he write on it? ‘Bye room. See you next year.’
In school playing with toys, or doing anything that is not timetabled or sitting in the classroom with the rest of the class can be seen as a ‘treat’. If a child isn’t in school then they don’t get to go swimming, they don’t get to see the pantomime, they don’t go to Lego club, and they don’t get Golden Time; they don’t get their ‘treats’. Therapy is a mental health provision. It is there to support a child as they try to survive and heal from the challenges that life has thrown them. Therapy is often very hard work. It may seem like fun to an outsider, because a client gets to choose what they ‘play with’ but really a child is just choosing their safest way to express what has happened to them in the past, what they are dealing with in the present or what the are scared about in the future. Going there, thinking about that stuff, is rarely fun. Therapy is not a treat. Even though it may happen on the school premises it is not ‘school’ ie education, it is a mental health provision. If a child is unwell they will obviously miss a session. If a child is excluded however, they will still need to attend their session (and they now have even more to process) and then go home again.
In school any educational process is governed by the progress and outcomes that are provable. Each lesson, intervention group, and module of work is assessed and evidence is gathered that progress is being made in lines with already pre-determined markers. Progress in these terms is more-or-less a straight upward trajectory. If there is evidence that things are getting better then ‘it’ is working. In therapy assessing ‘progress’ is an altogether different scenario. General tick box-assessments (SDQs etc) are made regularly (probably termly). However, in between these tools, which are only 1 element to a wider review process, ‘progress’ may look different to the therapist than it does to school staff. A child who has been shut down, possibly in freeze following earlier life trauma will always hit into the massive survival energies of the fight/flight physiology as they start to feel safe enough to ‘heal’. As I explain in detail in GROUNDED, this is a particular area where staff can easily mistake behaviour that is more challenging for no-progress or things getting worse.
In school extra educational provision can stop on a whim. Heads are under intense scrutiny from higher powers to line up budgets, to justify spending, to use the little money they have for the greatest return. They think big picture. What’s best for everyone, and make most of their decisions of success inline with section 4 above. If something isn’t seeming to them to be ‘working’ they are used to having the power and autonomy and (internal sense of responsibility) to make a decision and stop it swiftly. In therapy endings are INCREDIBLY important. The child is likely to have already had a collection of losses in their life – possibly leaving them with self-beliefs like ‘people always leave me’, ‘don’t trust people- they will go’, ‘people don’t want to be with me’, ‘people don’t like me and go away’. If a child has been through a deep healing journey with a therapist they will need a long run of sessions to process all their thoughts and feelings as their relationship and their access to their safe space comes to an end. 6 weeks of counting down with the child enables them to do what they need to, say what they want to and have a positive ending experience that leaves a good deposit in their life. They are part of the process and empowered by it. Ending a child’s therapy should be a joint decision made by the therapist, school, parents AND the CHILD. Any deviation to this procedure and the therapist will likely challenge the decision. They will advocate for their client. It is their job. It is important for that child’s mental health that they do. Of course, emergencies happen, and will be managed as best as possible by the therapist, however as a rule they should be the rare exception. Suddenly imposed endings cause damage to a child’s mental health. No one wants to be responsible for that.
Schools and therapists both long for happy children. Schools and therapists agree that there are oceans of unhappy children currently swirling through schools. Therapy can absolutely be a life raft for them, but only when the school and therapist work hard to communicate. Communicate needs. Communicate expectations. Communicate about communication! Communicate with curiosity, respect and with a desire to understand each other. We only manage to build bridges and work together with those from other cultures when we can first acknowledge we are not the same. Supporting our children’s mental health and supporting effective therapeutic provision in schools is going to challenge, test and grow us all! Are these children worth it? I believe we already know the answer to that… Claire Wilson is the Clinical Director of CHEW Initiatives and has many years experience as a teacher and subsequently an accredited play therapist. She is now a therapeutic adviser to schools, and is the author of GROUNDED: Discovering the Missing Piece in the Puzzle of Children’s Behaviour written for parents and all professionals working with and around children (www.groundedbook.net)
More than CPD
In June last year (2017) I was in London for a few days. I was there to be part of a specialist training for further enhancing my skills and credentials of working with trauma and the body – with children. I was excited about the training – in fact I heard from the organiser I was the first one booked on it. However, as I look back, those days mean even more to me now.
I arrived the afternoon before and met some of the other participants (from all over the world) for a meal. When walking back from that meal, we passed this march… You may/may not remember that that was a few days after the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower – just down the road from where we were staying.
I will never forget the energy of that moment… we stopped still and honoured those that marched past – the survivors… their anger, their grief, their fight, their trauma and I felt I became part of that moment, honouring them all, and those who were impacted by the trauma of the fire.
Over the years I have learnt so much about trauma. About how it can change people, the elements needed to heal from it, that it can change the course of your life, but doesn’t have to be a life sentence. About how brains and bodies change. About the hope there is.
At the end of the training days, when we sat in a big circle in a closing activity, I remember talking about Grenfell and committing myself to do my part to contribute to changing society views around trauma, and those who have experienced it.
What you wont know, is that just before that course, a few hours before that meal, and a few hours before witnessing that march I had pulled out my iPad in my hotel room in London and started writing… my book.
Catalyst for Good
Grenfell had had an impact on me – as my car crash had years before – that same ‘you never really know when your time is up’.
I didn’t want my time to be up without passing on some of the things I have learnt over 25 years working with and around children and families. Things I have learnt and researched and seen in action about what it really takes to bring the best out in children – trauma or not. Things that are not common knowledge…yet. That would be a waste. Grenfell was my catalyst to stop procrastinating and start using my voice. It was time to start getting what was in me out.
GROUNDED is a book that has come from over 25 years of working with and around children. Insight from years as a teacher, an accredited play therapist, a clinical supervisor, a therapeutic adviser to schools and families – and a trauma specialist still helping people of all ages heal from the impact of their experiences.
It is a book that is relatable to teachers, parents, TAs, grandparents, aunts and uncles, football coaches and Scout leaders. It is packed with current neuroscience and everyday stories that make it all so easy to read and understand. It is a book that advocates for children – and has a message they often can’t speak for themselves. It is a book for all adults who want to be the best they can be for the kids they know. It is a book with a message and a mission. It is a book of hope.
GROUNDED is a book that is endorsed by teachers, Heads, parents, grandparents, play therapists, psychotherapists, international trauma specialists and world leading neuro-scientists.
It is done. GROUNDED is out.
There is a lot more I could say about the book, but I wanted to let you know some of the story of where it came from.
Now I want to share it with you all, with gratitude, as you have felt like part of the team that has helped bring it to birth.
We all know that being around challenging children is HARD. Being involved in their lives means that we have a significant role we are playing – and yet it can sometimes mean we think that to be doing a good job we have to keep it all together and not let others know how hard we are finding it. We can be honest – but only a bit…
I wrote this several years ago, when Hinton was 9 months old. I wrote it for me and never intended to share it – but have decided I would, in case it resonates with anyone else out there doing significant work and finding it HARD right now.
HINTON DIARY – 9 Months
“So I cried today in a room of women and four-legged furry beauties.
I was done.
‘My furry boy’ is a real challenge at the moment – in ways that no one knows if they just look at him.
In fact if you just look at him, you would say how gorgeous he is, and you would want to touch him (EVERYONE wants to touch him).
You would have no idea about what it is really like living with him at the moment. The stubbornness, the independence, the inescapable attraction for anything new, how unbelievably strong he is when he wants something, and then there is the sensitive tummy, sensitive temperament and unpredictable VERY mushy toileting.
My ‘boy’ is 9 months old and a real conundrum in so many ways.
I’m not just saying it. He has had his trainer scratching her head more than once.
We went to our regular socialisers puppy class today.
It was clear to the trainer as soon as we arrived, that I needed some extra support and I didn’t deny it.
The trainer took him and I sat there with tears pouring down my face. Exhausted.
It turns out that some dogs are like this when they hit teenage stage.
It turns out that they are not all this hard, but some are.
It turns out that in some ways he is very normal.
It turns out that in some ways he is very different, and not all the standard ‘normal’ approaches are helpful for him.
It was lovely for them all to notice and comment on the good bits they see in him (he can do rocking sits and downs when he has a mind to, waits and stays are there too, and I think the stories of how he now copes with being handled, poked and prodded which he totally HATED a few months ago, actually really impressed them).
And that is it, the conundrum. He is not all bad. Not by a long shot. I wouldn’t swap him for any of the other pups. He is ‘my boy’ [for now] and we are going to work this through together, we will both be changed by it, and come through wiser.
That is where we are going. But to get there I needed today.
- I needed to be around the wisdom of others who ACTUALLY KNOW what it is like being a puppy socialiser.
- I needed to hear encouragement from others who ACTUALLY KNOW what it takes to be a puppy socialiser.
- I needed to hear and receive affirmation of the good job I am doing with him from people who know the investment of time, energy and life it takes to train a pup like this.
- I needed time out – even just a few minutes – of not being on the end of the lead, to regroup and get myself into a calm state again. Time to look at him from a different perspective and realise there was no other puppy in the room I would want to take home instead.
- I needed to hear from people who are more experienced than me, that being at the end of myself did not mean I was a poor socialiser in anyway.
- I needed to hear stories of the depths that others (who seemed to have it all together and appeared to know what they are doing) have been to with puppies they have socialised in the past – and to see one of them sitting there with the very same puppy, now calm and in control of himself, happy, snoozing and ready for the next stage of training.
And he needed time away from me.
Right then, he needed time being handled by an expert.
He needed support from someone who was calm and grounded, who could help him move on through those minutes in a positive way.
It takes a village to raise a child apparently.
It surely takes a community to raise an assistance puppy.
So as I am writing, we are home now. He is asleep by my feet.
Still gorgeous. Still a teenager. Still so much toddler.
Socializing an assistance puppy has to be up there with some of the hardest things I have ever done.
But I’ve heard many parents say the same about parenting.
I’ve heard many teachers say the same thing about teaching.
I am SO grateful for the support and expert training I have around me. While everyone wants to throw their two pennies worth of opinion at me – I know who I am choosing to listen to. I am learning so much about dogs, about people, about me, and I have chosen to change and grow through it all… Socialising my first assistance puppy IS an adventure and I’m not done yet.”
SO from one honest heart to another – let me ask you these 9 questions:-
- Are you doing something significant?
- From 1-10 how hard is it at the moment?
- What is hard about it that no one else would know from the outside?
- Do you compare yourself with others who appear to have it all together?
- Who would you need to hear positives from to really receive and believe what they are saying?
- When was the last time you had ‘time out’ away from those children?
- What are the specific positives or developments that you can see are still in your children, even in the midst of a challenging phase?
- What emotional support do you need?
- What specific expert support do you need?
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