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Play Time Podcast! 

Play Time is a podcast for child therapists, parents, and anyone else curious about children, who are interested in listening to a play therapist explore the beautiful, messy, and complex work of conducting child therapy. This podcast is grounded in a Child-Centered Play Therapy (CCPT) perspective, with episodes covering concerns regarding play therapy, as well as issues related to children and their development as a whole. 

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Play Time Transcriptions

I'm working on transcriptions for the Play Time Podcast! I'm doing them a couple at a time, and will continue to post them here as I get them finished.

Episode 38: Love and Fear in the Age of Pandemic

Hello and welcome back, or welcome for the first time, to Play Time. My name is Andrew Barnett, and I am a child therapist that lives and works in beautiful Asheville, North Carolina, and this is a podcast dedicated to play therapy and child therapy coming at both of those things from a child-centered perspective.

And I suppose this is as good of a time as any to talk about fear given the global pandemic that we're living in, given the amount of diligence, and hygiene, and restrictions, and worrying, and all the rest of those things that can be put under the big fear umbrella that many of us or all of us are dealing with on a daily basis. And for this podcast, I want to try to make a distinction between love and fear, which at first glance, those are obviously very different things to feel internally inside of oneself. They're different things to feel when we're feeling them towards somebody else. But at least in some of the families that I've worked with now and in the past, and even in my own way of relating both to clients and also to other things in my life, they can become more blended than it would seem at first. 

And here's how they seem to become blended. And I'm gonna use a general example, and I experience some of this in my own life, many of the children who I work with experience this in their life, where a parent says to a child that they shouldn't do something, perhaps, or they're being punished for something. This even happens sometimes as the punishment is occurring. Adults even can do this between each other, where it's said that I'm doing this thing because I love you. I'm punishing you because I love you. I'm restricting you because I love you. And that's given as a rationale for adding layers of restrictions or protections or attempting to have some level of control over another person's experience. And there's a basic truth there that I wouldn't want to debate. And that basic truth is, is that we all, as people, want to protect the people and things that we love, and part of that protection is often trying to limit the amount of danger, or accident, or injury that can happen to that person that we love or to that thing that we love in the outside world.  

However, there is not a feeling of love inside of those restrictions and inside of the energy that goes into trying to control somebody else. And while there may be love inside of the person, the parents, the whoever who is trying to control the other person, what is felt on behalf of the person who was trying to be controlled is restriction, and people use love as a rationale for restriction, even in relationships where there might not be a high level of love present.

Forgive me for the, say the gravity of this example, but it seems that the world, unfortunately, is dealing with an increase in domestic violence with these lockdowns generally, and if you are someone out there who is struggling with anything like that, my heart goes out to you. But abusers of some kind, say, or people who could be controlling inside of a romantic relationship will often justify their controlling behavior or jealous behavior or wanting to restrict their partner due to this feeling of love. They'll say that, "I love you so much, I don't want you to see so and so," or "I don't want you to do so and so," and that happens also with parents and children and then that word love gets thrown around in this way when there is not actually a felt experience of love with that, because the fine distinction between acting out of fear and acting out of love is that fear is constricting. Fear is trying to limit the possibilities around us. Fear is trying to keep things safe. Fear is trying to keep things the same. Fear is acting from a place that is not very loving. In contrast, love is expansive. Love is fueled by curiosity. When we're feeling the love for someone in a particular moment, we might notice new things about them. We might be open to the possibility of both who they are and who they will become. We might be holding them in this way that makes space for all of them cause in this feeling of love, we feel an expansion inside of ourselves to take in more of the person whose in front of us, an appreciation of who they are versus wanting to contain that person in a particular kind of box to keep them safe. 

All of that is not to say that there aren't times for all of us as people, whether as clinicians, or as parents, or as partners, or family members, to act from a place of fear. There are legitimate things to be afraid of in this world, the world can be a scary and dangerous place. The world is not outfitted for children necessarily and so they can find themselves getting into situations where they could hurt themselves, and they need to be protected from that. There needs to be limits around those things, and acting from a place of fear is not really a bad place to act when there is a danger and there is something to be afraid of. 

But I can feel worried when we name that fear is coming from a place of love, and when we start to throw those two things together, because we can end up getting confused in that process and believing that because we're afraid and because we want to protect something that that means that we love something and those.... that's not necessarily true. As a clinician, when I'm acting from a place of fear, which happens sometimes, and it's probably worth going through a couple of examples of that. One place where I could act from a place of fear is if I've say, just gotten some information about a child, say, and they are struggling with a particular kind of thing or they've had a really rough week at home or at school or both, and they come into the session and I can feel some kind of pressure to move things along in a particular kind of way out of this fear place, so that I can help keep them safe in the environments that they're in, so I can help them assimilate better with the people that are there to create more intimate relationships, to recognize that there is support available in their environment if they're open to receiving it, so that I can want to push the door of them open a little bit so that more things can get through and they could be more receptive to things.  

But when I'm in that place, I'm acting from a place of fear. I'm acting from a place of restriction and I'm no longer actually feeling loving inside of myself, towards this client that I'm with, in this current moment and open to what they might need to move forward, open to moving at their pace, curious of how things are for them, curious about how they're presenting in the room, open to their own exploration of the therapeutic process. And it feels very different to take in that information that they've been struggling, to assimilate it inside of myself, and to approach them from a place of ah, this person needs me to be accepting today. I can channel a loving energy through acceptance today. They're not being accepted currently in their environment. They're not receiving something that they need. They're shut off from receiving any other kind of support and I can respect that from a place of acceptance and love and know that that acceptance and love is what will move them towards whatever their future will be from a place of wholeness, from a place of integration, from a place of healing, where they need to be healed and evolving where they need to evolve.  

Another place where, as a clinician I could feel fear, especially right now, is with Telehealth and feeling insecure about that and feeling afraid that this won't be as effective for children as it was previously, being afraid that this might be a situation for them that they might not like very much. And all of that fear needs to be acknowledged, that insecurity needs to be acknowledged, but then we move forward. We move forward from a place of acceptance. We can be steady and consistent and maintain that therapeutic relationship in the face of all of these struggles. We can approach the session knowing that this is different for the child too, and that they may be coming at it from a place of fear and if they're coming at it from a place of fear and insecurity and were coming at it from a place of fear and insecurity, then we're gonna have some pretty tough sessions. But, if we can reground in acceptance and we can reground in our ability to be therapeutic, which is just a coded way of saying love perhaps, then we can be at our best. 

And I can feel afraid for afraid, haha, I could feel afraid. Well, I can, I can, I can feel afraid for children right now who I know are under a lot of restrictions, and I know that parents are trying to implement new routines that could be washing your hands more or trying to get all this school work done in the home school situation that many children are finding themselves in right now, of setting limits on 'No, you can't play outside with your friends,' or 'you can't do this' or 'you can't do that'. There's so much fear in the air and I think if I had a hope for this, for trying to do this particular podcast, it would be for us all to at least consider replacing those times when we say, you know I'm doing this thing that you don't like because I love you, I'm restricting you because I love you. This rule exists because I love you. I don't want you running on the street because I love you and replacing that statement, we could just, we could just name those limits already, those limits are going to exist, and providing the rationale of love isn't generally particularly helpful in having those limits be respected. 

But if we're able to replace those times with a recognition of, ah, I want to make sure, that this child does experience love as well. That there's this protective piece that comes from fear, and there's this attentive piece, this acceptance piece, this being with piece, this appreciating piece that comes from love, that can stem from curiosity, that can grow when we're sitting with a child, whether it's our client in a session or a child you have at home and noticing a new thing about them. Noticing, say, a physical characteristic, or noticing a mannerism, or a tick, or a way that they say things, or something about them that hasn't struck our attention before.

Coming at working with children or being with your child from this place of curiosity and noticing something new and when you notice that new thing, you can feel a little bit of expansion inside of yourself, like you're taking more things in, like you're being more aware, like you're being filled by an appreciation for the person in front of you, for the child in front of you as a human being and that's love. That's the felt experience of love, and we all need that right now. We need it just as much, if not more, than we need those added protections. There are lots of things to worry about right now, and there's lots of things to be afraid of. There's lots of grief right now, whether it's from individuals that people know who are dead or are sick, or whether that's from the loss of money and income and place in the community, meaning in the world, friendships, family relationships, so many things are not what they once were at the moment.

But if you are with a child, if you are working with a child, we can still find a place to have that acceptance and love be present. If you're living with a child in the home, perhaps you have more time. And if you do have more time, spending a little bit of time each day with them in their play, letting them lead the play, you know these things things called 'tracking' and 'reflecting' that we do as play therapists, but naming some of the things that are going on inside of their play, reflecting their body states, reflecting their emotions. If they say that's not the emotion that they're feeling, we can take that. You can take that feedback from them and be in the space of curiosity, of noticing, of finding something new to appreciate. That is the active practice of love.

To know is to love, and at least for the people that we are in quarantine with, we have the opportunity to get to know them a fair amount better. We obviously also need our solitude and our alone time and to take care of ourselves first and foremost. But if there is space in there to flex some of those heart muscles with curiosity, I think that could make a big difference for the children in our world who are also struggling right now.  

And that's all I've got for this episode of Play Time. Thank you so much for listening. Please rate, review, subscribe, all that good stuff. Tell a friend... that actually helps the most of all and all of those things help the show get more reach. Check out Barnett child therapy dot com for some of the titles in the Child-Centered book series, including 'I Have a Secret', which is the newest volume, which is available for preorder but I have not put that on my website yet...I should. But it is on the Grateful Steps website, it is being published through Grateful Steps. Shout out to Micki over there... as always, be in touch if you want to be in touch. My email is Barnettchildtherapy at gmail dot com and yeah, I will see you all next time. 

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