from Counselor Journal
by Elaine Korsch, MSW, CDCC and Sheryl
Puppets often are used in treatment programs for children, as their
non-threatening nature can help adults and children alike get in touch
with their senses and feelings and express emotions in appropriate
ways. To support this premise, a set of puppets called Endangered
Feelings characters were created in 1989 by Barbara Kobe of Crystal,
Minnesota. Each of these unique puppets has its own facial
expressions, purposes and message.
message of these cuddly characters is that a person's feelings are their
own, that it is important to express emotions in ways that are safe and comfortable
and that sending your feelings into hiding risks their extinction.
Feelings puppets are Angerilla, Trifearatops, Crynoceros, and Happypotomus.
Another puppet included in the set is Numbfull, a blah, plain creature
with a front pouch that holds four bean bag characters called Ragefull,
Tearfull, Fearfull and Joyfull. Numbfull's message is that when
feelings are unexpressed, they have a stifling, immobilizing effects.
The Willow Street
Center for Youth and Families, a division of Abbott Northwestern Hospital's
Behavioral Care Network in Minneapolis, has searched for innovative ways
to proactive brief treatment with children and their families. The
Center agreed to evaluate the clinical impact of their use. A plan
was developed in which the children would be exposed to the puppets first
in group therapy and then in family therapy.
The group activities
were developed by a chemical dependency counselor at the Center. The
different activities include psychodrama, telling stories about the
animals and playing games. This set the stage for children to
develop rapport with the puppets, reacquaint themselves with their
feelings and gain an awareness of their own family issues in preparation
for family therapy.
A family therapist at
the Center developed techniques for using the puppets in family
therapy. The puppets would be used as a medium for the child to give
the therapist information about the family and to help parents connect
with their children.
These case studies
use drama, metaphor and play in interactions with the puppets and
families. Through the use of these puppets in a family therapy setting
children and parents found self-expression and were able to discuss
feelings that were difficult for them to express verbally. The
puppets became a way for them to tell their stories.
The "M" family consisted of a single mother and her
four children. The second child, nine-year-old Josh, was
hospitalized for repeated suicide attempts, impulsiveness, aggressive
behavior and depression. Mom was very patient with all the children
but had difficulty setting limits and flowing through with
consequences. Mom had a history of under-reacting to the children's
escalating, out-of-control behaviors. The therapist believed that
the mother needed to respond to the children in a more firm an directive
During family therapy sessions, the children
would perform a play with the puppets with mom always acting as the
director of the play. When mom first was given the job of director,
she reacted by asking, "What does the director do?" The therapist
would respond, "The director tells the actors what to do."
Mom selected themes for the children's plays, and they would perform. At
first the children fought with each other and kept looking at the
therapist, whining, "I want to be the director." A
time-out chair was set up in the room for actors to use, should the
director ask them to take a time-out.
Gradually the children settled into their roles,
stopped trying to be in charge and began to think of family therapy as a
fun game. At the end of each scene, the actors were rewarded with
enthusiastic applause form the director and the therapist.
A 13-year-old, hearing impaired boy named Corey
was admitted to the unit after a serious suicide attempt. One year
prior, he had been diagnosed with cardiovascular and neurological
impairments which were expected to progressively worsen. His activity
level had been restricted drastically in the past year, and he had
experienced deterioration in some of his motor skills.
During a session with Corey, his mother and
younger brother and the therapist were exploring with the family how each
member felt about Corey's health and his prospects for the future.
Corey refused to talk but grabbed out the Joyfull puppet and threw it
angrily across the room. He sat there with Numbfull, filled with
Ragefull, Tearfull and Fearfull. Corey dramatically expressed his
feelings through using Numbfull without speaking a word.
Six-year-old Craig was admitted to the unit
for fire setting. He also had significant learning problems and low
verbal skills. His mother was a single parent with an extensive
history of abusing chemicals, especially marijuana and alcohol.
Craig was very aware of his mother's drug use but had some
misperceptions. For example, he perceived that his mother would die
if she stopped drinking beer, that it was a "habit that she couldn't
stop." Clinically, it was clear that Craig worried about his
mom's use of chemicals and that his mom was not aware of the extent of his
concerns. She eventually decided to enter an outpatient chemical
dependency program. When she informed Craig of this decision, Numbfull
was sitting by him on the sofa. He picked up all of the little
"Fulls", stuffed them inside Numbfull and stuffed them inside of
his t-shirt. Eventually, he was able to acknowledge that he had many
feelings about his mom's not drinking alcohol anymore.
Todd was a 10-year-old boy who was admitted
to the unit for aggressive and out-of-control behavior at home, where
there was significant family history of violence. His father, who
was physically abusive to Todd, his older sisters and his mother,
currently was in jail for drunk driving violations. Todd worked vary
had to talk about his feelings, especially his fears of being abused
again. He worried that he and his family never would be safe from
his dad. His mother listened supportively to his fears, then shared
her plan of how to keep everyone safe.
At the end of each session, Todd's reward for
sharing his feelings was to present a five-minute play using the
puppets. He metic8ulously would set up the chairs in the room to
make a stage. The plays always depicted the same plot:
Happypotomus and Crynoceros being terrorized by Trifearatops.
Angerilla would proved the grand finale saving the day.
Obviously, the play depicted Todd's anxiety that
dad would come back and harm his family and the boy's wish that someone
more powerful than his dad would save them. Todd was able to
acknowledge that he thought it was his job as the "man of the
house" to protect his sisters and mom. Todd was
"fired" from that job, and slowly he began to have more
confidence in his mother's ability to keep the family safe. During
Todd's stay, his mom worked aggressively through the court system to press
charges against the father and initiate orders for protection.
Through these examples, it was evident how people
act in response to the puppets and, with them, are able to talk about critical
issues. Children often do not have the verbal skills or the medium
to express their concerns. With the help of these big, cuddly, soft
puppets children may stop being afraid of family therapy and look forward
to it as an opportunity to play and get parental affirmation.
In therapy sessions, it is difficult to
distinguish who is having the most fun or who has gained the most from the
experience--parents, children or therapist. Perhaps that is because