By Marta Campillo, MA
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 29 seconds
A concerned father brought his 7- year-old daughter to psychotherapy because she had recently started to have tantrums, was very unhappy and moody, and answered badly when spoken to. She was not sleeping well and she refused to go to school. During the first play therapy session, she told me that before she had always liked school where she sang, laughed, and enjoyed playing with her friends. Now she felt sad and scared. She said, “My father would not love me anymore.” She feared she would no longer be her father’s “princess.” Her brother was born last month and now she felt her family was not the same.
The present story used a metaphor about “The Heart” and it was narrated during that first session. I ask her to close her eyes while she listened to a story.
“I am going to tell you a story that comes from old legends about life. This is a story about how each one of us, in that place where life is created, was given a heart, and life with it.” I asked her to place her hands together, palm to palm, and softly I opened them and told her: “This is your heart: a unique and irreplaceable place in the universe”…living for you, loving you, creating, and enjoying all that you do and want. And as you imagine your heart, you can feel it beating within your hands and can softly place it in your chest. This heart represents your vital essence, that which allows you to live, it creates all the possibilities to learn, to love, to imagine, to be all that you can become, to suffer and overcome hardships, to learn and to create alternatives to improve your life and what you want to be.”
The story continued on, narrating in detail many of the possibilities of that unique journey that is life, using indirect language, “yes sets,” truisms, and presuppositions. It included embedded suggestions about the uniqueness of her life/heart so that she can make her life grow, enjoying it, and she can teach her heart all the good things that she needs to be strong and independent. I emphasized that her heart occupies a unique and irreplaceable place that only can be occupied by her own heart. I also said, “You are the keeper of this heart that is life within you, to care for, to protect it and make it grow.”
The story explains that we are born and continue to grow, and even though we do not remember that moment where we were given life, the strength of the love for life can be felt in everything we enjoy. At the same time, the young girl was asked to imagine all the things she has learned to enjoy and to feel the love generated when discovering relationships with other family members and children, school, play, or nature. Also described with indirect language are other steps to take to be able to learn ways of overcoming pain or problems, including embedded suggestions of knowing how to care for our heart, and the joy associated and felt when feeling safe and happy.
The story places the listener as the “Keeper of the Safety of the Heart life.” It describes the experiences of caring for oneself, the patience and the strength to learn from mistakes, and the kindness to forgive others as part of the richness of the experiences and joy of the heart as living in an inner-self life process which we own by the fact of being alive.
While the child was listening to the story she was asked to imagine, remember, and identify the feelings of life experiences she had had in the past, in which she learned new things, and to enjoy that experience. Before concluding, she was asked to imagine the shape her heart would have, to picture its details in her imagination. Then she opened her eyes and was given the option to draw it or make it with play dough. She chose to draw it.
The next session her father said, “We came to tell you everything is fine, my princess is going to school, sleeping well, and playing and caring for her brother at home.”