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Playing for insight

Kimberly Nicoletti
Puppets, toys, drawing and a sand tray are all tools that elicit insight for counselors Lisa Dion, left, and Charlotte Gordon.
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BRECKENRIDGE – Summit County’s culture is all about play – so why not take a playful approach to psychotherapy?

Lisa Dion and Charlotte Shintaku Gordon use toys – puppets, games, books, figurines, sand trays, masks and Nerf swords – to access clients’ hidden emotions and inner wisdom. The psychotherapists specialize in play therapy.

But playing isn’t just for kids. It’s just as effective for individuals, couples and families.

Take a couple who have lost their “spark.” They could use the sand tray – a 2-by-3 foot box filled with sand – to create a scene reflecting the loss of passion.

As they choose from hundreds of small figurines and place objects in the tray, Dion or Gordon observe the process. Once they create the scene, each partner takes turns telling a story about the figures in the box. They may even role-play characters within the box. As the session continues, clients discover unspoken rules in their relationship and gain a better understanding of the other’s experience.

“It’s a way of getting out of the way and allowing that inner voice that’s not allowed to come out,” Gordon said. “(It highlights) something that’s not being addressed and allows it to come out. The sense of touch and the visual (objects) help people get in touch with inner feelings. Once you can quiet the mind, then there’s room for something else to emerge. It’s a real gentle way to quiet the mind.”

For kids, the approach uses their natural playfulness to help express traumas and emotional experiences they might otherwise be unable to express. Through play therapy, children can recreate experiences that cause anger, fear and sadness in a safe environment. It allows them to gain understanding and a sense of control, or comfort, over the situation.

“Kids’ natural language is play,” Dion said. “Developmentally, they don’t have the capacity to talk about traumas. The creative therapy allows kids to process trauma more objectively.”

Dion and Gordon join children as they play. This contributes to healing in at least three ways: First, the kids have an experience of being “met,” or being with an adult who understands their experience and keeps them safe (which didn’t happen during the initial trauma); second, it helps them add words to their feelings and experiences; and third, it helps them create a different outcome.

“Kids get stuck at the developmental level when the trauma happened,” Dion said. “Through the play process, they grow up.”

Dion and Gordon use play therapy to address a variety of social, emotional, behavioral and learning problems.

The symptoms children come in with usually diminish within a few sessions because they begin directly expressing their emotions. Then, children often go through a more challenging phase, where their unpleasant behavior may arise again. This happens when they’re delving into – and working through – what’s bothering them. From there, symptoms improve.

The amount of sessions ranges from 10 to about 50. At the end, the therapists involve the parents in order to impact the family and how it operates as a unit.

“This is another way to enter the psyche without going through the conscious mind,” Gordon said. “It’s a very gentle and supportive way to begin the healing process and access that piece that’s stuck for them. It comes out much more naturally.”

Dion and Gordon are part of Rocky Mountain Community Counseling in Breckenridge, which opened June 1. They work with Jeremy Dion, a music therapist, and Carey Miller, an experiential therapist.

Gordon has lived in Silverthorne since 1990 and facilitated EVOLVE, a mediation group that recently disbanded. She received her master’s degree in counseling and psychology and counselor education with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy from the University of Colorado at Denver.

Dion has a master’s degree in transpersonal counseling from Naropa University in Boulder. Both therapists have done postgraduate work in various types of therapy.

For more information, call (970) 547-5333.

Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 245, or by e-mail at knicoletti@summitdaily.com.


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