Grantee Spotlight Blog Series: EMERGE Family Therapy Center and Teaching Clinic
This week’s blog is written by Susan Lea, Development Director, EMERGE Family Therapy Center and Teaching Clinic
The Meaning of Play: Michael’s Story
Michael* (name and identifying details have been changed to protect privacy) was a bright three-year-old, doing well in the Meeting Street Academy (MSA) preschool program. He knew the alphabet and could even count to 20! His teacher enjoyed having him in the classroom—but was surprised when he started having sudden bursts of screaming and unexpected bouts of crying later in the fall. She referred him to see Emilea Richardson, a Clinical Fellow from EMERGE Family Therapy Center and Teaching Clinic’s Post Degree Institute.
Emilea specializes in Child-Centered Play Therapy to create a safe space for children to explore their emotions and tell their story through play, because play is the natural language of children. As she observed what toys Michael played with and what scenarios he created, she knew that Michael was suffering a post-traumatic reaction to witnessing a drive-by shooting that left a neighbor dead. Emilea first worked on creating a safe environment for Michael in the therapy room. She knew he needed to feel safe and to feel loved before he could face his “big emotions.” She helped him to identify his feelings by reflecting what she observed to him. With her, he was able to grow in self-understanding and self-esteem. Once those were improved, they were able to give him better coping mechanisms to improve self-regulation.
As Emilea worked with Michael, she realized he had another story to tell. Michael often played with small action figures—bad guys versus good guys. However, he did it so repetitively and focused on creating a jail so often that she could tell Michael had another experience to process. Eventually, through the work of play, Michael was able to tell his story of having witnessed his mother being arrested over a year ago. With Emilea’s help, Michael was able to process his emotions and work toward healing. His teacher noticed a distinct improvement in his behavior as he made progress in therapy.
“As a therapist, being a witness to the story that a child creates in play therapy, I can validate that story and affirm it,” Emilea said. “Through this work, the child gains the ability to build healthy self-regulation and self-esteem.” The work she did at MSA solidified her career goal of becoming a Registered Play Therapist and she is grateful for this experience to work with the preschool age children.
Play Therapy Program at Meeting Street Academy
The Play Therapy program at Meeting Street Academy was funded by a grant from the Mary Black Foundation to provide services and equipment for preschool children—an unmet need, since school district funding is targeted at school-age children. Clinical services were provided on-site by a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy Associate from the Post Degree Institute at EMERGE Family Therapy and Teaching Center. Debbie Wright, MSA’s Dean of Academics, said, “We serve under-resourced students and families, and this therapy is a game-changer!”
Meeting Street Academy recognized the impact of the Play Therapy program, and recently created a full-time Play Therapist position at Meeting Street Academy. And—they hired a fantastic therapist! Emilea is excited to go from her work as a Clinical Fellow to serving as the first Meeting Street Academy Play Therapist.
And—The Mary Black Foundation continues to invest in mental health wellness at Meeting Street Academy; this year, funding was awarded to EMERGE to add additional family therapy services for MSA students and families. “The vision and mission of Meeting Street Academy and EMERGE are in sync, and we are optimistic about the future of our partnership,” said Wright.
EMERGE Family Therapy Center and Teaching Clinic
For more information about EMERGE Family Therapy Center and Teaching Clinic, visit www.emergeftc.org or call (864)583-1010. EMERGE offers mental health services on a sliding fee scale to the community through the Teaching Clinic located on 138 Dillon Drive in Spartanburg. EMERGE also provides continuing education workshops for mental health clinicians, and has a Post Degree Institute offering internships for those newly licensed in mental health fields. Our mission is to train therapists, provide quality, affordable counseling services, and strengthen our community.