Every Child’s Life is Worth a Story – A Tool for Integration

Felicia Carroll Therapist & Supervisor

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Article Excerpt

When the child is unable to interact with his environment with ease because of lack of appropriate support or is overwhelmed with a circumstance in life and is unable to assimilate experience, the child’s sense of self becomes fragmented, lacking in cohesion. The energy that was used for on-going construction and development of the self becomes engaged with internal splits and conflicts. Such childhood experiences result in the child developing a sense that “something is wrong about me,” or “with me,” or even more fragmenting, “I am wrong.” In his efforts to maintain homeostasis or equilibrium in non-supportive life circumstances the child struggles with shame, unassimilated introjects, and a faulty sense of himself and his relationships with others. The child organizes his sense of who he is according these ideas and loses his spontaneous, cohesive involvement in life. The symptoms that bring a child into therapy are indicative of this disturbance of integration.

The Gestalt therapist asks, how can I assist this child to achieve healthy integration in order to restore his path of wholesome development? Violet Oaklander (1978, 2006), is a renowned Gestalt therapist who has written about the Gestalt approach to working with children and adolescents. Her model provides a way of working with children that strengthens their sense of self by utilizing many interventions that encourage the sharpening of the senses, learning direct and productive ways of getting needs met, understanding emotional expression, and becoming more accepting of the various aspects of being a whole person. These elements are experienced in therapy as the child and therapist utilize various creative modalities of expression in addressing the child’s difficulties in life.

In this paper I will share one method I have used with children as a part of their on-going therapy which also includes the objectives and activities presented by Oaklander and which is grounded in the principles of Gestalt therapy. The method discussed here involves collaborative telling, writing, and hearing of a story that captures the child’s lived experience, and more. Engaging in this process allows the child to create a cohesive narrative that supports healthy integration and productive development.

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Felicia Carroll is a Licensed Marriage, Family Therapist and Registered Play Therapist – Supervisor. She teaches at Gestalt Institutes and play therapy training programs globally and founded the West Coast Institute for Gestalt Play Therapy, where she is the director and advanced trainer.

Though Felicia Carroll’s article doesn’t mention OH Cards, we present it as context for OH Card use.