Last week, Strategic Play Global worked with First Nations Crisis Counselors. These are mental health specialists who fly into remote communities to deliver emergency mental health services to communities during times of crisis. The week before, we trained chaplains who work for the Department of Defense and support those who are protecting our collective freedom. These are frontline heroes working in extreme destress situations most of us will never experience or fully understand. It would be impossible for the average person to comprehend the challenges that come from this type of work.
Working with those suffering from trauma is not for the faint of heart.
To close your eyes will not ease another’s pain. – Chinese Proverb
As an art and play therapist, I worked on the frontlines for years with adults, teens, families, and children who were suffering as the result of traumatic events.
That experience taught me that sometimes words are just not enough. This is when the therapeutic use of art and play, especially LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® (LSP) methods, can be very beneficial.
How can Lego Serious Play methods help with traumatic events?
Under extreme stress, people cannot tell their stories because the events are too painful to recall. It is at this moment when we realize there are a few things that are true. Individuals need people to simply be there. When they are ready, they will tell their stories if we can provide a safe place for them to share.
LEGO SERIOUS PLAY is not a one-stop fix-all solution; nothing is. However, it has powerful elements a skilled and trained facilitator can utilize during a crisis. Everyone needs to be seen, heard, and understood. This is even more important during times of extreme emotional stress. When a certified facilitator and skilled therapist or practitioner uses LEGO SERIOUS PLAY appropriately, it can:
- Provide a safe place for people to share without fear of judgement.
- Create an opportunity for the validation of feelings and emotions.
- Provide a medium for the inside world to come to the outside for exploration.
- Allow people to tell their stories metaphorically and with less detail or without reliving the entire event.
- Allow others to hear the stories without comment or a call for action.
- Create a shared language for understanding.
- Create a container where time is held for each person and the playing field is leveled.
There are however, a number of precautions:
- When people tell their stories, they have no way of understanding how others will hear or comprehend them.
- We cannot expect victims of trauma to filter their stories to protect listeners.
- People who have suffered trauma will need to feel assured their listeners are adequately equipped to hear their story.
- Vicarious trauma can result by listening to others’ traumatic events if there is not an appropriate container for telling stories.
- In group work, listeners can also be triggered by the stories.
- The facilitator must be prepared and ready to provide support to everyone.
- A bravado effect can occur where listeners feel obliged to outdo the others by citing their own traumatic events, “You think that’s bad? Here is what happened to me.” So ensure you have ground rules in place and boundaries the facilitator will reinforce.
Yes. It is a lot to unpack. It is challenging and difficult work requiring the mastery that comes from experience.
Here are some guidelines to follow when dealing with challenging situations and using
LEGO SERIOUS PLAY methods:
- If you want the participants to work in groups, first conduct individual interviews to understand presenting issues and build a rapport. This will help you determine if group work is suitable or if individual work would be a better fit for your group.
- Golden Rule: Only use group work if it will benefit the individual. Do not use groups as a way to save time or money; this could lead to even more damage.
- Work with a coleader. It is always smart to have two minds at work when doing this type of challenging work. Your co-facilitator may catch something you miss.
- Ask in advance how you can best support each individual: How can we tell if you are at risk? This question can prepare facilitators and pre-empt emergencies.
- Identify the support people for the participants ahead of time. If a stressing or concerning situation should arise, you will know who you can reach out to.
- Establish the ground rules for the group and set the cultural norms: Here, we will respect the storyteller and their story by just listening. We will only question the model.
- Ensure each storyteller understands how much time them have to talk. This will help set expectations about the appropriate amount of information they should share.
- Be sure everyone understands sharing boundaries. Let them know if anything is off limits, and then you can remind them in the moment if it comes up.
- Establish levels of confidentiality. Not everything can remain confidential, such as a situation where a child is at risk. That would need to be reported immediately.
- Create a safe place in case someone needs to sit out for a break. What could it look like, and how might it work in your setting?
- Create a soft landing space for after the session. This will help you to be sure people are ready to go back out into the world. depending on the group, you may end with a coffee/tea time, prayer, or other grounding rituals.
These are just some suggestions to support those who are doing the hardest work in the field of trauma. Given the events of recent years, average people are under extreme stress. It is truly hard to imagine what it might be like for those suffering from a traumatic event or long-term toxic trauma while also trying to support a family with children.
And if you are doing this work, remember: You too need support as well as time to rest and relax. You are not responsible for fixing everything. It is enough that you are working to validate the feelings of others and to support them during times of crises.
If you are looking for training so that you can use this powerful method in your work, email us: firstname.lastname@example.org