How a Tragedy Inspired a new Play Therapy Model

Renown therapist Lisa Dion developed Synergetic Play Therapy after a hit-and-run car accident.

While pregnant in the hospital after a hit and run accident, Lisa Dion invented a new form of play therapy.

In dedication to my daughter, Avery Grace.

When I was 29 weeks pregnant with my daughter, I was in a hit-and-run car accident. As a result of the accident, I ended up in the hospital in labor. For three days, a team of doctors worked diligently trying to stop my contractions. Each time the medication that I was given to calm them would wear out, my contractions would spike.  And so would my baby’s dys-regulation. Rather than calm with the medication, my baby would try to fight back. It was clear that her sympathetic nervous system was in overdrive. I was so scared.

 My body intuitively wanted to move about after the accident, but I was told that I could not move and was confined to my bed while they watched my baby’s vitals and monitored my contractions.  The monitor for my vitals and my baby’s monitor were right next to each other, and for hours I would stare at the lines bouncing across the screens, watching how they would go in and out of resonance with each other. Through my fear, something about this was catching my attention.

On the eve of the last day before I could no longer receive more medicine to stop the contractions, I was feeling terrified, knowing that there was a chance that my baby was going to be born the following day, at two months early.  I remember laying there at 2 a.m. with my body aching to be able to get up and move.  I intuitively knew that I was not in my own rhythm.

Against doctor’s orders, I decided to trust my intuition. I waited until the nurses were gone and my ex-husband was asleep and I got out of bed. I slowly began to walk around the room allowing my body to unwind from the impact of the accident. Back and forth. Back and forth. And as I mindfully paced the hospital room, I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror.

I am not sure how else to describe that moment other than I saw myself standing there, pregnant, and the reality of the situation hit me. In a split second, I took a deep breath and something pulled me inside. Pulled me into connection with my baby. It is the moment that I know I became a mother.

Looking in the mirror, I stood there holding my belly. Breathing in, breathing out. I began to feel a calm enter my being. Breathing in, breathing out. My baby began to calm with me. We were synchronizing and I began to dance.

Yes, literally dance.  At 2 a.m. in the middle of the hospital room, I began to dance around the room holding onto my belly. I danced and I cried. I breathed. I felt my baby on a very deep level. We were one. We were regulating each other. After some time, I finally made my way back to my bed and was able to fall asleep.

The next morning my room was filled with specialists waiting to see what would happen after they gave me my final dose of medicine to stop the contractions. The anxiety and overwhelm in the room was intense. My contractions spiked along with both my vitals and my baby’s vitals.  The medicine wasn’t working and I knew I needed to do something.

I closed my eyes and remembered dancing. I remembered holding my belly and feeling the attunement between us the night before. I shut out the world around me and once again connected to myself, so that I could connect to my baby.

Breathing in, breathing out. Once again we found each other and our vitals settled in the midst of the contractions. As we continued to regulate, the contractions also began to settle. Later that day we were sent home.

What I learned through the experience with my unborn daughter was that I was capable of regulating someone else’s nervous system by regulating my own.  I learned that when I was deeply attuned to myself that I had the power to deeply attune to another being. Most importantly, I learned that when two beings sync up that there is a synergy that is created that is able to initiate healing in ways that I could never have imagined possible.

Ten years, thousands of kids and therapists, and several countries later, I have researched and developed a model of play therapy that uses the therapist in a way no other play therapy does — to intentionally attune and regulate the client’s nervous system based on what I learned from the car accident experience. Yes, you can regulate someone else’s nervous system without an umbilical cord.

Synergetic Play Therapy™ is a “syn-thesis” of cutting-edge research in interpersonal neurobiology, attunement/attachment, physics, human development, nervous system regulation, mindfulness, and the power of the therapist’s authentic presence in the room to regulate and re-pattern the client’s nervous system.

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