MATTHEW'S STORY

Healing Through Play Therapy

Today, Matthew is a fun-loving 10-year-old boy. He has a high standard of manners for himself and others and like most 10-year-old boys, he enjoys physical activity. Also, he will often create and design games or even come up with original songs. Matthew is fairly protective of his four younger siblings. His tendency to protect doesn’t just stem from him being the oldest child, but it also comes from experiencing and witnessing physical abuse when he was younger - primarily from his step-father.

 At age seven, Matthew and his four siblings were removed from his mother and step-father’s care and placed into foster care with a kinship foster parent. Two years into their placement, Matthew began to show overly aggressive behavior toward his foster family, siblings and peers at school. He increasingly struggled to get along with his siblings. His foster family was then referred to outpatient counseling through Cornerstones of Care as a way to help understand the trauma that Matthew had endured and help him process his emotional reactions.

Learning Through Play

Due to Matthew’s age and behaviors, he began play therapy once a week with Kirk, a provisional licensed professional counselor (PLPC) at the Cornerstones of Care – Spofford Campus. Play therapy is a therapeutic modality geared toward children that provides a safe place to heal and learn new social and emotional learning skills. During therapy, Matthew’s counselor encouraged him to explore events and daily activities through play. 

In the beginning, Matthew’s themes of play centered around power and control. He sometimes would pretend to put others in unsafe situations and then act out harmful scenarios that were unusual play themes for a child Matthew’s age.  Kirk recognized that Matthew’s style of play was processing his emotional reactions to the abuse he had suffered. 

“Matthew’s themes of play were his way of reversing the roles and processing his emotional reactions to his experiences … he gained a sense of mastery over his experiences by expressing them in an indirect way through play, resolving the inward tensions he carried.” said Kirk.

Emotions Through Play

Then, one day, Matthew confided to his case manager that his step-father had been showing up at his foster family’s home and continuing the abuse. Thanks to Matthew’s strength and resiliency to confide in his case manager, this was quickly resolved with a restraining order. Once Matthew confided about his step-father’s actions, Kirk realized that Matthew had recently been processing his emotional reactions to the abuse he had continued to endure.

Growth Through Play

Once the abuse stopped, Matthew felt not only safe, but also a sense of autonomy. Soon, his play shifted to more celebratory and protective themes. He frequently led games of “treasure hunting” and ball toss, as well as collaborating with his counselor to construct things with blocks and Play-Doh. Once again, Matthew appeared to be pleased to have his toddler brother around, and helped him to be happy while avoiding doing things that would get in his way, appropriately demonstrating his protective role as an older brother.

Matthew has successfully discharged from outpatient counseling services after he completed his therapy goals. His past aggressive behavior and intense emotional reactivity have faded away while his caregivers continue to notice his social skills, safe expression of emotions and behavior improve.

Learn About Outpatient Counseling