Once, a famous teacher was returning home from an important lecture he had just delivered to a group of esteemed colleagues, and was absorbed in the accolades he had received. His route took him along a beach-side boardwalk where something caught his eye. A young boy on the beach was build ing the largest and most elaborate sand castle the teacher had ever seen. The child was respectfully scooping the sand up in his hands, then patting it firmly yet gently into place. He had carefully created towers and turrets, dug a moat, and raised flags, in total absorption.
When the boy completed his impressive work of art, he rested back on the sand, appearing to admire his own work. Then, suddenly, he leapt forward, jumped on the castle, smashed it down, spread it over the sand, and watched as wave after wave washed away any evidence of its existence. It was as though the castle had never existed.
The teacher was shocked. What a waste! Why should such an achievement be obliterated? Why would a creator destroy his own work? He walked across the beach and asked the boy, "Why do you spend so much time and effort building such a huge and elaborate castle only to break it down?"
"My parents have asked me the same question," confided the boy. "My mother sees something very symbolic in it, but then that is my mother. She tells me that each grain of sand is like each aspect of humanity. Together they can form something impressive but, when we forget about our relationships with others and try to exist like a solitary grain of sand, something is destroyed in much the same way that I destroy a castle, or that the ocean breaks it up into millions of pieces and disperses it along the beach.
"My father says it is a way of learning about life. Nothing lasts forever. Like sand castles, everything is created and destroyed, exists and vanishes, is impermanent. When we appreciate this we can begin to enjoy the time that we have available. He says that building sand castles is a way that children intuitively come to learn and understand these important lessons of life.
"For me?" asked the boy. "For me, I am just playing. I just want to enjoy what I am doing and have fun."
The lecturer untied his shoelaces and cast aside his footwear. He peeled off his socks and rolled up his trousers. He un-knotted his tie and sat down beside the boy, asking, "May I stay and play with you?"
In an award-winning article entitled "Playful Metaphors" in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, Dr. Julie Linden claims, "It is through play that children develop, and when development has been interrupted therapeutic play can heal" (2003a, p. 245). Play is thus presented as essential to the process of maturation and the process of healing, serving several functions. Biologically, play provides exercise, develops physical skills, and offers release of energy. Intrapersonally, it helps develop personal mastery, mind-body interaction, and conflict resolution. Interpersonally, it facilitates the development of identity and social skills, while socioculturally, it models culturally appropriate behaviors and roles (Schaefer & O'Connor, 1983).
When you set out to communicate a healing story through play or playful activities, several therapeutic benefits are almost inherently present:
■ Play is likely to create a good mood or feeling in your work, thus shifting the unpleasant, negative associations the child may have with the way the therapeutic "issue" has been tackled by direct parental injunctions in the past.
■ By the time the child is hauled into our office and we are instructed to "fix" him or her, relationships between the key players and the "issue" are often negative. Play is one quick and effective method to modify that situation, enhancing and facilitating positive relationships between therapist and child as well as between parent and child.
■ Play helps establish a desirable context for learning. If children enjoy—and feel good about participating in—a playful experience, they are less likely to be resistant toward the potential learning from that experience, and more likely to be absorbed in the experience of that playful interaction.
■ Play can heighten children's awareness of their resources and competencies as well as help them develop new skills they did not possess previously, thus better equipping them for their journey through life.
Play, and its therapeutic benefits, has been the subject of many useful books over a long period (Boik & Goodwin, 2000; Norton & Norton, 1997; O'Connor & Braverman, 1997; O'Connor & Schaefer, 1994; Schaefer, 2003; Schaefer & Cangelosi, 2002; Schaefer & O'Connor, 1983). Using play as metaphor (Linden, 2003a) has specific advantages in that it can facilitate many of the desired goals in child and adolescent therapy. It is about pleasure, enjoyment, and joyfulness. It is an activity, involving a child in the process of doing. It incorporates exploration, experimentation, and problemsolving skills. It is a powerful process of learning and a necessary process of healthy growth. But here my aim is not to give a thorough coverage of one topic so much as to provide a smorgasbord of the various ways you can communicate, and enhance the communication of, healing stories for both children and adolescents.
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For anyone concerned that this is a report designed to teach readers how to convince crowds of people to act like chickens or dance to an unheard song just with a carefully placed keyword - relax. While hypnosis is often paraded in that form with large crowds visiting celebrity hypnosis experts to see what wonders they can perform, the majority of hypnosis used is to aid people seeking a solution to a problem they cannot resolve easily with any other method.