By Roger Seth
After our team received an excellent day of training in Trauma Counseling by a woman who has 20+ years’ experience helping sexual abuse survivors to heal, I was inspired to implement some of the practical lessons learnt. Our trainer had spoken of “grounding” techniques, which help a person to shift their focus from troubling emotions (such as recollections of past abuse) onto the present moment. She also introduced the idea of “anchors:” pictures or objects (such as a Teddy Bear) which can help a traumatized child stay connected to a feeling of safety.
The focus on “grounding” and “anchors” guided me as I planed my subsequent monthly Play Therapy session with the girls. “Grounding” can involve paying attention to physical sensations, so I created a session I called “Touchy-Feely.”
From home, I gathered many small objects which represented a variety of textures: an orange, an apple, a doll, sand paper, a smooth stone, Velcro, a leaf, etc. These went into a cloth bag so they couldn’t be seen. This bag formed the primary prop I needed for the session with the girls, which consisted of four rounds.
In Round 1, a girl would reach into the bag, touch an object and, without looking, guess what it was. She’d then pull the object out of the bag so that everyone could see if she’d guessed correctly or not. Then the next person in the circle would take a turn. By the end of the round, all thirty objects were out of the bag, in plain view of the girls and staff who were sitting in a circle.
For Round 2, I asked each person to choose 2 objects and place them in the bag, so that everyone saw what went in. When it was her turn, a girl would reach in to grab an object (again without looking), and then say, “When I touch this object, I think of ____.” The group would then try to guess which object she had selected. Answers ranged from literal to abstract. One girl said, “When I touch this object, I think of a round, red sweet fruit [apple].” Another girl said, “When I touch this object, I think of running anywhere I want [stuffed animal mouse].”
To begin Round 3, I invited each girl to look at all the objects laid out before us. “Now we’re going to talk about a negative feeling,” I explained. “We can choose fear, anger or sadness…which would you like to select?” The girls together decided on “sadness.” I instructed them to pick up an object which, when they either held it or looked at it, made them feel sad.
Some of their answers were very revealing. One girl said, “When I hold this flashlight, I feel sad, because the batteries will eventually run out.” One girl, who had previously held back from taking part in group sessions, now spoke up, crying: “When I hold this book, I feel sad because, before coming to the Courage Homes, I never held a book in my life!”
Round 4 was about a positive emotion, and the girls decided to focus on “peace.” Remembering the idea of “anchors” from the recent Trauma Counseling training, I gave them each a piece of paper. “Draw a picture of any object or place which, when you look at it or think of it, makes you feel peaceful,” I said. “You can copy the shape of any of the objects that were in the bag, or you can choose another object which isn’t here.”
Suddenly, the group session became stressful for the girl who had just shared about the book. “I can’t draw!” she fretted. One of our team members immediately said, “That’s ok. Why don’t you think of an object and tell me what it is, and I’ll try to draw it for you?” That seemed to calm her down.
Many pictures emerged: A garden, trees, a lake, a teddy bear, a remembered pet, “God.” As the session closed, I told the girls, “Keep your picture with you, and next time you feel troubled, look at the picture and let it remind you that it’s possible to feel peaceful.” Thus it was that throughout the session we had played around with tactile aspects of “grounding,” and we ended with each girl taking her own “anchor” with her.