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The Philosophy of Synergetic Play Therapy™


Philosophy of Synergetic Play Therapy™

Philosophy of Synergetic Play Therapy™

Synergetic Play Therapy™ (SPT) is a cutting edge model of play therapy designed to re-pattern the disorganization in the lower brain centers, areas that are often un-addressed in many current play therapy models. Often referred to as "the new paradigm of healing in play therapy" by many students, Synergetic Play Therapy™ is the first researched informed play therapy model to blend together neuroscience, attachment/attunement, therapist authenticity, physics, emotional congruence, nervous system regulation, and mindfulness/mindsight and more to get to the heart of the healing process for children (and the therapist!).

When a therapist becomes centered, they can facilitate collaborative communication, thus creating a synergy between themselves and the child. “Such communication allows for the creation of brain connections that are vital for the development of a child’s capacity for self regulation.” Dan Siegel

Although the principles of SPT can be applied to both directive and non-direct models, it is first learned in a non-directive approach, allowing the client to lead the play. Whether in a directive or non-directive approach, the challenging emotional states and enactments that arise are precipitated by the child client.  The client must feel that they are in charge of their experience.  The attuned Synergetic Play Therapist knows when to help the client move towards their emotions and physical sensations and when it is important to gently back away to prevent emotional flooding. 

The Synergetic Play Therapist aims to replicate the delicate dance of attunement that occurs between a caregiver and an infant. Since 60% of communication is non-verbal (Burgoon, 1985), it is important that the therapist’s verbalizations and non-verbal activity are congruent during the play therapy sessions in order to transmit trust and safety to the client (Shore, 2006). In doing so, the therapist maximizes right-hemisphere to right-hemisphere communication, and can act as an external regulator for the client’s dysregulated states (Shore, 1994) as they arise in the play therapy process.  

The therapist is the most important toy in the playroom.  Toys are used to help facilitate 1)the relationship between the child and his or her perceptions of the challenging experiences in their lives and 2)the relationship between the therapist and the child.  SPT believes that the toys themselves are not as important as the energy and emotions that arise as a result of how the child is playing with them.  In SPT's truest form toys and language are not required.

SPT posits that the therapist’s ability to engage in mindsight and model regulation of her own nervous system is the foundation for clients to learn how to manage their own. The therapist has to lead the way, just like a care giver has to lead the way for an infant.

The therapist must work at the edge of the window of tolerance and the regulatory boundary of the dys-regulated states in themselves and in the child in order to expand those boundaries and re-pattern the disorganization in the lower brain centers of the child.  A core principle of SPT is the therapist’s ability to be authentic and congruent in his or her expressions, coupled with the ability to model regulation through the crescendos and decrescendos of the therapist’s internal state that are in resonance with similar crescendos and decrescendos in the clients arousal system (Schore, 2006).  This allows the therapist to stay on the edge of the window of tolerance, and serves as a catalyst for the re-patterning of the dys-organization in the lower brain centers of the client. 

"When the relationship is experienced as safe enough, the dissociated experiences will begin to come into conscious awareness.  As we resonate together, the activation will amplify and, if our window of tolerance is broad enough to contain this energy and information, our patient will also experience a widening of his or her window.  In the research of Carl Marci and colleagues (Marci & Reiss, 2005), these moments of autonomic synchrony were subjectively experienced as empathetically rich interpersonal joining.  This research showed that within the session, our nervous systems will flow into, out of, and back into synchrony many times.  This rhythm is parallel to the dance of mother and infant as they move from attunement to rupture and back to repair over and over, laying the foundation for security, optimism, and resilience" (Badenoch, 2006).

With repeated observation of the therapist’s willingness to stay authentic and move towards the challenging emotions and physical sensations aroused through the play, the child's mirror neuron system is activated and the child learns that it is ok to also move towards their own challenging internal states.  Research shows that as clients begin to move towards their challenging internal states, new neural connections are created until a critical state is reached that results in a new neural organization (Edelman, 2004; Tyson, 2002)

In SPT the child's symptoms are understood as symptoms of a dys-regulated nervous system.  These dys-regulated states arise as a result of 1)the perceived challenges and thoughts he or she has regarding the events in his or her life and 2)he or she has lost attachment with him or herself and is attempting to be someone they are not (acting from "shoulds"), instead of being who they truly are.  

Through the play itself, the Synergetic Play Therapist supports the child in changing his perceptions of the perceived challenging events and thoughts in his life, as well as getting in touch with his or her authentic self.  

The result of Synergetic Play Therapy is that the child heals from the inside out and from the lowest part of the brain up.

Tenets of Synergetic Play Therapy™.

  • The therapist supports the child in changing his perceptions of the perceived challenging events and thoughts in his life.
  • Attunement between therapist and child is essential to heal disorganization in the lower brain stem and re-pattern their nervous system
  • The therapist models self-regulation to the child, because children learn most through observation 
  • The therapist’s ability to use mindfulness to be congruent and authentic in her language and non-verbal signals allows the child to feel safe in the relationship and engage in “mindsight”; a term coined by Daniel Siegel to describe the human capacity to perceive the mind of the self and others.  It is the lens through which we can understand our inner lives with more clarity, integrate the brain, and enhance our relationship with others.
  • The child’s symptoms are understood as symptoms of dys-regulated states of the nervous system.  
  • The therapist is the most important toy in the playroom.   Toys are used to help facilitate the relationship between the therapist and the child.  At SPT’s essence, toys and language are not required.
  • The therapist supports the child in getting with who the child truly is rather than who she thinks she “should” be.
  • The synergy between the therapist’s authenticity, attunement, congruence, and nervous system regulation support the child in learning how to attach to self, the cornerstone of all healing.
  • The child projects his inner world onto the toys and therapist setting them up to experience his perception of what it feels like to be him. 

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