James Madison University

Workshop Objectives

Children of Fury and Fawns in Gorilla Suits:
Play Therapy Interventions for Aggressive Behaviors

David Crenshaw
The analogy of “fawns in gorilla suits” was developed to acknowledge the hidden wounds so often carried by children who act-out aggressively.  The aggression distracts from the underlying emotional pain and “protects” by keeping others, even those who wish to help, at a distance.

Recent findings from neuroscience, in addition to time-tested concepts of Winnicott, inform the interventions with aggression in children in the play therapy space.  Concepts such as the “survival of the rage”, “betrayal trauma”, and “brain stem dysfunction” as well as the key role of countertransference work in treating these youths are critical to understanding and treating the aggression. 

The theoretical rationale and interventions are derived from a depth approach to psychotherapy with “fawns in gorilla suits”.  Play therapists who treat children with lacerations to the soul may be drawn to simple and quick solutions but are likely to find such “breakthrough techniques” elusive.  Research has shown that child-centered play therapy is an effective treatment for aggression in children and reasons for its effectiveness will be discussed.  The play therapist-child relationship offers a rich opportunity for both an emotionally corrective and relationally healing experience.

Learning Objectives

After attending this workshop, participants will be able to:

  1. Identify 3 practical methods for monitoring and working therapeutically with countertransference feelings in play therapy with aggression;
  2. Name three common sense safety precautions in play therapy with aggression;
  3. Describe 3 elements of therapeutic presence in play therapy;
  4. Name 3 examples of affect-porous symbols in play therapy;
  5. State 3 indicators of exceeding the windows of affect tolerance in play therapy;
  6. Describe the concept of “survival of the rage” and related play therapy interventions;
  7. Discuss how to redirect and modify the defense of “identification with the aggressor;”
  8. Name (at least) 3 specific play therapy interventions designed for “children/youth of fury” and “fawns in gorilla suits.”

Play Therapy Interventions to Enhance Resilience with Traumatized Children

Competence-Based Play Therapy is especially designed to promote resilience in children. The practice of play therapy, consisting of the therapeutic relationship, therapist attunement, unflinching empathy, “deep hearing” (Carl Rogers), and compassion, combined with the resources that the child or family brings, creates a complex and rich process that promotes resilience and healing.  Directive therapy interventions may be helpful in jumpstarting the therapeutic process or structuring the therapeutic context to support childrens’ communication. 

A wide range of play and expressive arts interventions will be described and experienced by the participants during the day including use of puppets, drawing and artwork, storytelling, narrative story stems, clinical use of symbols, guided imagery and fantasy techniques, poetry, sand tray, and drama.  An Integrative Approach, consisting of contributions from CCPT, Directive Play Therapy, CBT, Family Therapy, and Animal-Assisted Therapy will be shared.

The workshop is intended for all mental health clinicians, family therapists, and school counselors who provide interventions to children, adolescents, and families. The presentation will invite participation by experiential activities, small group discussion, role-play demonstrations, and sharing of clinical examples by the presenter. We will examine ways to foster and enhance the child’s and family’s healing resources using practical tools and interventions that can be used in play therapy across individual, family, or group counseling session formats.

Learning Objectives

After attending this workshop, participants will be able to:

  1. Describe the components of the complex process of play therapy;
  2. Identify the factors that contribute most to play therapy successful outcomes;
  3. State the strengths of child-centered play therapy and the increased responsiveness afforded by incorporating an integrated approach to play therapy;
  4. Describe the Competence-Based approach to Play Therapy (CBPT);
  5. Describe the rationale for and how to introduce therapist-directed interventions;
  6. Examine a wide range of directive interventions including play and poetry, art, and storytelling to promote resilience in play therapy clients;
  7. Apply resilience research to play therapy and describe the “ordinary magic” of play therapy;
  8. Identify how to use “islands of competence” to enhance resilience in play therapy.