Why Child-Centered Play Therapy?

Imagine you are really angry, but when asked to describe how you feel you can’t use the word “angry.” You might be thinking, “how am I supposed to tell someone how I feel if I don’t even know the words!” For children, toys are their words, not giving them an opportunity to play out their feelings with toys is like taking away words when asking how you feel. 

Put simply, play therapy is to children what counseling is to adults. Children’s main medium of expression is through play. Play therapy allows children to communicate and express their feelings in a developmentally appropriate way. It is an evidenced-based and developmentally responsive mental health intervention for young children ages 3 to 10 years old who are experiencing social, emotional, behavioral and relational disorders. What’s the difference between regular play vs. play therapy? Therapists who specialize in play therapy are knowledgeable in recognizing themes in play, and can promote emotional regulation, self-control and mastery. 

In a playroom, a play therapist works with children on reflecting feelings, assisting in positive self-direction and setting limits to building coping skills. Through therapy, children learn how to express and accept their feelings in ways that benefit them. Toys and other playroom items are used to assist children in communication with the play therapist. This can take different forms such as playing with dolls or action figures, sand trays, expressive arts, storytelling, clay, and dress up.

An important aspect of play therapy is the therapeutic relationship between the child and the therapist. The relationship should provide a safe and nurturing environment, so the child is able to experience full acceptance, empathy and understanding. Play therapy also allows children to process their inner experiences and feelings through play, symbols, role-play, fantasy and arts.

What are the benefits? 

  • CCPT meets children where they are developmentally, allowing them to process emotions without needing the capacity of abstract thoughts. 
  • Provides an opportunity for children to act out feelings, experiences and thoughts that they can’t express through words.
  • Bridges the gap between experiences and understanding. 
  • Provides opportunity for problem-solving, insight and skill mastery.
  • Encourages autonomy and independence.
  • Helps children with learning social skills and relational skills.

Explaining play therapy to children 

Here is an example of a way you can broach the topic of play therapy and explain it in a way your children best understand:

“Sometimes you feel happy or you feel sad, or you may even feel mad sometimes. When you play, sometimes you feel better. In play therapy you will come to a place that is just for kids. You will meet a grown-up who will be your play therapist and you will go to a playroom where there will be lots of toys. In the playroom you can play with the toys in lots of the ways you like. Your play therapist is there with you to play or to talk, it’s up to you. Play therapy can make you feel better because you get to play and be with someone who cares about you and you get to choose what you want to do. Sometimes playing will be fun and sometimes it will be serious, but you get to decide. The playroom is a safe space where you can ask questions if you don’t understand something. This is a time just for you!”   

Written by Masters Level Intern Hannah Miskelley


University of North Texas. (n.d.). Child Centered Play Therapy. UNT Center for Play Therapy. https://cpt.unt.edu/child-centered-play-therapy 

Association for Play Therapy. (n.d.). Why Play Therapy?. Mental Health Professionals Applying the Therapeutic Power of Play! https://www.a4pt.org/page/WhyPlayTherapy 

Andrewjeski, Kaitlin, “The Symbolism of Play Behavior in Child-Centered Play Therapy” (2019). UNLV Theses, Dissertations, Professional Papers, and Capstones. 3780. http://dx.doi.org/10.34917/18608580 

Optimizing Your Vacation Time

School’s out and summer is here! This time of year can be a multitude of things: exciting, stressful, busy, restful, and fun. With camps, sports, trips, and pool days filling your calendar, it’s so easy for your summer to go by in a flash, leaving you feeling exhausted come fall. Have you ever gone on a vacation only to get home feeling like you need a vacation from your vacation?! Same here. Whether you have a week-long vacation coming up, or if you have one day to take off to be by yourself, I want to give you some ideas to help optimize your time off, so that you feel rejuvenated and renewed. 

Set aside some space and set intentions for your time off, really plan and think through your needs and what you want it to look like. The grocery and packing lists will get done, I promise! Engaging in a mindful intention setting can help you really get what you need out of your vacation. Here are some questions to think through as you set intentions for your vacation or time off. 

  1. Vision. If you were to describe your ideal vacation for this season of your life in three words, what would they be? 
  2. Personal reflection. What does this time off mean to you? What will you lose if you don’t take it?
  3. What would feel good to you. What does rest look like? Will you engage in any exercise? Are there any activities or games that you want to make room for? What do you want to eat? Where and with whom? What relationships will you invest in? Anything else you need to achieve your vision?
  4. Boundaries. How will you disengage from work? What do you need to ask for or put in place to be able to disengage from work? Can you disconnect from anything virtually during your time off? How will you nurture your mind and heart? 
  5. Preparing. What projects/tasks do I need to complete before leaving? Is there anything I can delegate or defer? Is there anything I can ask for help on?

If you are going on vacation with someone else, what would it look like to each answer these questions and then come back together to compare? If you have kids coming with you, this may be a great way to model to them what it is like to assess your needs and ask for them to be met. What questions could your kids weigh in on to give them some agency in the process?

My hope is that these questions can help you elicit your needs in order to make your vacation feel good for what you need in this season. Vacations are a beautiful time to make cherished memories, so my hope is that setting intentions and sticking with your plan can help eliminate some of the stress, even before it happens.

If you need more support, please don’t hesitate to call The Refuge Center to get connected with a therapist who can help you with whatever it is you may be going through.

By Masters Level Intern Kat Thompson

The information in this blog post is largely influenced by a graphic organizer created by Michael Hyatt & Company, LLC in 2018.

Navigating Buried Trauma in Adoptees

“Trauma hides who we are like a cloud blocking out the sun. 

It doesn’t diminish our radiant brilliance.”

 – Simon Benn

            Adoption can be defined as “The action or fact of legally taking another’s child and bringing it up as one’s own, or the fact of being adopted.” Adoption can also mean, “To take by choice into a relationship.” These definitions for the most part offer the same meaning; however, they have different tones. One definition seems more rigid than the other. Each definition holds a special meaning, and one definition can impact each individual differently.

            Adoption can be seen as a beautiful experience. As a parent, it may feel like such a core moment as you welcome your home to a parentless child. However, adoption is not always those precious moments. Adoption can be filled with trauma, grief, and loss for the adopted child. So how do parents navigate that trauma, grief, and loss with their child?

            As an adopted individual myself, I think that it is extremely important to provide information on some of the challenges that adopted individuals face in regards to their mental health. Adopted children might develop anxiety, depression, and even residual trauma. Often times, these issues are rarely talked about as adopted children might feel like they cannot voice what they are feeling in fear of no one understanding. 

Trauma can look different for everyone. Trauma is painful no matter what scale it is on. Navigating through trauma can be a really difficult thing and for certain traumas, there are more resources available than others. However, my hope is to provide you with knowledge and resources so that you may help understand the forgotten trauma of adoption in adopted individuals.  

There are a number of strategies that parents and professionals can use to help adopted children process through their trauma. Learning about attachment, behavior, and personality can be beneficial to learn about. Another strategy might be welcoming the idea that someday the adoptive child might want to have a relationship with their birth family. Sometimes for the individual it can be hard to put into words what they may be feeling. It could be helpful to connect them with a social worker or therapist to help them navigate through those particular feelings and emotions. 

Some times, Adoption itself might not be the underlying issue to the child’s trauma. It may be that the disruption of caregiving that occurred early on in the child’s life created the traumatic event. In that case, being able to listen to your child and offering that safe space for them to express how they are feeling is a great way to build that trusting relationship. There are a lot of things that the child might go through and maybe only a fraction of it is being communicated to you. 

It can be difficult for an adopted child to place themselves in a world where they feel like they don’t belong. They might feel different from their peers or sad that they are not running into the arms of their biological parents. It can also be hard for parents to understand what their adopted child is going through and find the empathy that is needed for the child’s feelings in a space where the child doesn’t feel at home.  As a parent, it might be hard to see things from the adopted child’s perspective. However, it can be helpful to learn what the child is needing and how you as a parent, can help that child navigate through their complex feelings in the best way possible.  

If you are someone who does not have an adopted child in your family, but you are thinking about adopting, a great way to understand how to connect with the adopted child is through the Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI). TBRI can help adoptive parents learn how to meet the complex needs of the child and how best to understand the traumatic and grieving experiences their adopted child might have. 

For international adoptees, it is important the adoptive parents understand and learn about their child’s culture in particular. A part of an adoptive child’s struggle and trauma might be that they feel a disconnect with who they are and what their past was. By integrating cultural practices or cultural information into the child’s life, it could help them understand who they are. However, it is important to be mindful of the child’s wishes as well when it comes to learning about their birth culture as they might still be grieving what they lost. 

Helping adopted children learn to cope with their trauma and loss is part of life as an adopted parent. It can be overlooked and misunderstood when we do not know how to navigate through the complex trauma and emotions that the child might be experiencing. It’s important to understand that the things they might say or feel might not be directed towards you, but rather directed towards the complex emotions they might be feeling as they try to make sense of them in a world they feel lost in. 

At the Refuge Center, we want to provide help and resources for all people on all walks of life including adopted parents and adopted individuals as they learn how to navigate the emotions and trauma that adoption may bring. If you know adoptive parents or adopted children that might be looking for help navigating through their complex trauma, the Refuge Center offers a safe place for those individuals to get the help they need. 

Blog written by Master’s Level Intern, Taylor Musarra

Bailey, C., How can I help my adopted child cope with loss and trauma? (2021, August 13). adoption.com. https://adoption.com/how-can-i-help-my-adopted-child-cope-with-loss-and-trauma/

Bradley, E., Adoption and relinquishment trauma. (2021, December 20). Mental Health Match. https://mentalhealthmatch.com/articles/trauma/adoption-relinquishment-trauma

4 Important adoption definition you should know. (n.d.). American Adoptions. https://www.americanadoptions.com/adoption/adoption-definition

Karanova, P. A., 100 Heartfelt adoptee quotes the honor the truth of adoption. (2022, January 10). https://pamelakaranova.com/2022/01/10/100-heartfelt-adoptee-quotes-that-honor-the-truth-of-adoption/

Maddox, L.A., Understanding adoption trauma. (2023, May 22). Better Help. https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/parenting/understanding-adoption-trauma/

Purvis, A., Beginner’s guide to TBRI. (2019, May 15). Creating a family. https://creatingafamily.org/adoption-category/adoption-blog/beginners-guide-to-tbri/

Trauma and adoption: How to help your teen heal. (n.d.). Embark Behavioral Health. https://www.embarkbh.com/trauma/trauma-adoption/

Reframing Your Picture of Honor

Author: Shelby Rawson

“Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 5:16 ESV)

Alex stood before the card section in Kroger, just staring. He was unsuccessfully looking for a card. None of the cards had the right words. Thirty minutes passed as he watched person after person reach for cards, read their words, smile to themselves, and walk away satisfied with their purchases. 

Their faces blurred as Alex’s mind focused on a memory … He was six years old. They were at his grandparent’s house for Thanksgiving. Cousins running around, plates of food, football on the television, card games, beer, and so much liquor.

No holiday was ever spent in Alex’s family without drunk men and women. Some drunks were funny and some drunks were cruel. And little boys were an easy target for thoughtless jokes.

“Hey, Alex. Come’ere, bud,” his uncle smirked when he called him over to his chair. “Where’d you get that haircut? It looks like somebody took a weed whacker to your head, son!”

Alex knew better than to say anything, so he just stood there sheepishly staring at the floor and cracking his knuckles to deal with the tension building in his body. His uncle continued making fun of him while his dad threw in his own jabs and laughs at his son’s expense … Not once did he chime in and take responsibility for the horrible buzz-cut he’d given him.  

The day he grabbed the clippers and told Alex it was time to get a man’s haircut was burned in his mind. His dad hated his curls and told him they made him look like a little pansy. “You’re not gonna look like a girl anymore. And don’t even think about crying,” his dad sneered.

He secretly hoped his mom would stick up for him. He often found himself wishing she would just be in his corner for once instead of shrinking while his dad made him feel like he was the butt of every joke and the reason he always seemed to be disappointed and angry.

None of these Hallmark-esque scribbles came anywhere close to the feelings Alex had for either of his parents. He had spent his entire childhood putting his heart out there and repeatedly learning it wasn’t safe with them. His dad’s version of love was distant and critical, masquerading as “helpful instruction.” While his mom just survived backed into a deep corner of her own heart.

Alex remained frozen, his mind pondering reality.

Do they make cards that just say, “If you hadn’t been born, I wouldn’t exist. Thanks so much.”? Or “Thanks for keeping me alive. Satisfactory job.”?

Or, God forbid I even attempt a Father’s Day card … Is there a card that says, “Happy Father’s Day. Thank you for all that helpful instruction! I’ll never use power tools after a six-pack.”?? Or maybe … “It’s Father’s Day. I hope you’ve become as great as you always said you were.”

I refuse to lie anymore. I refuse to falsely show honor or make excuses for my parents’ failure to love me.

No card expressed the truth of Alex’s story.

It’s easy to choose a card when your mom packed your lunch, made birthday cakes, cheered at your t-ball games, or gave you hugs every day. All of those things show love or kindness, at the very least. 

It’s easy to find a card for a Dad who threw the ball with you, took you for ice cream, and encouraged you to be a man. Each of those actions is nice, but they are especially good for the heart when they can be done without criticism and judgment.

As a believer, you know that you are supposed to honor your father and mother. You know that Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are designed for showing honor to your parents. You know that birthdays are meant for recognition and celebration of life. You know that people make phone calls, send texts, give cards, and buy gifts. 

So when your gut is churning and your jaw is clenching at the thought of sending a bunch of words that show zero representation of your actual parental relationship, you feel anything but honor. You may feel angry, sad, hurt, lonely, guilty, or a combination of feelings. 

Your life didn’t look like an American Greetings card …

Your dad didn’t know how to love you. He paid more attention to Jim Beam and Jack Daniels than his own kids. Or maybe he resented you for forcing him to grow up before he was ready … so he just didn’t.

Your mom didn’t protect you. She didn’t guard your innocence. She introduced you to shame and confusion. And you’ve paid the price for her failures physically, mentally, and emotionally.  

Now let’s add to this the picture of honor that the world paints. It’s pretty dramatic, right?

We tend to associate honor with this grand gesture we bestow on another person. We honor veterans, fallen soldiers, former NFL players, and retirees. We hang engraved plaques. We write articles. We have ceremonies. Heck, we even have parades to show honor.

And, of course, we have dedicated holidays for each of our parents, set aside for us to honor them. Teachers do crafts with their students, restaurants hold special brunches, churches pass out flowers, and grocery stores stock up on bouquets. 

So, we develop this ideal in our minds of what honoring our parents looks like. It comes with the pressure of pretentious perfection. And you know what? That ideal is wrong. 

Honor in its most simplified definition is showing respect for another person. Respect doesn’t need to be shouted from the rooftops, it doesn’t have to be paraded in front of anybody. Respect can be quiet. Honor can be silent.

The way you honor your parents isn’t up to Hallmark or your local flower shop. Honoring your parents is between you and the God who has written every page of your story—including the days you may want to forget. 

Take a minute to pause and consider that honoring your parents can look very different than what you’ve imagined up to this point. It’s time to let go of those ideals that have been trained into your thinking. Honor can be simple.

Honor may look like making a decision to stop speaking negatively about your parent. You can honor your mom by biting your tongue rather than sharing the ugly truth. 

This doesn’t mean that you fill your silence with lies. In other words, you’re not skipping cards with disingenuous sentiments and replacing them with fake words or memories. 

It means that you make a conscious effort to bridle your tongue. It means when you are given the opportunity to air your mom’s dirty laundry, you keep it to yourself. That is a way to honor a mother who was absent physically or emotionally. There may be no card for that, and that’s okay. 

And what if your parent is still very much a part of your life, but continues to be harmful? How can you show honor to a parent like that? 

Think about something this parent does really well—it doesn’t need to have anything to do with parenting. It could be something like cleaning, baking, woodworking, gardening, or decorating.

You can show honor to a dad who is great at carpentry by asking for his input or help on a carpentry project. Could you look it up on Google or Pinterest? Of course you could. But, this is a simple way to allow your dad to give his input and feel respected. 

Both of these forms of honor make space for honesty and authenticity. They don’t require you to deny your reality or to ignore your history with a parent who has hurt you repeatedly. And yet, either of these practices can be done as a way to be obedient to the commandment to honor your father and mother. 

Holidays don’t matter in God’s eyes, honor matters. You can honor your relationship with the only Father who will never leave you or forsake you by showing small acts of respect to your earthly parents. 

There isn’t a predetermined formula for honoring your parents. You don’t need to rely on your imagination in a card aisle to buy a card with hollow words. You don’t need to buy flowers, send gifts, or make dinner to show honor to your parents. 

You may need to honor your parents by remaining safe behind much-needed boundaries. Don’t confuse showing honor to a parent with putting your heart in harm’s way by subjecting yourself to unhealthy behavior. That isn’t honor. 

Honoring a parent doesn’t demand that you ignore harmful behavior. Honoring a parent doesn’t demand your dignity. And honoring a parent doesn’t demand you live a lie to protect them. 

Your parents don’t get to tell you how to honor them. Your siblings don’t get to tell you how to honor your parents. And strangers writing cards don’t get to tell you how to honor your parents. 

Honoring your mother and father isn’t just for your parents. God tells us to do it knowing there is a benefit in it for you. Things will go well with you when you honor your parents. The Bible doesn’t tell you how your parents benefit from honoring them, it tells you how you will benefit from honoring them. 

Think of it this way. We came from our parents. We carry their DNA. When we look in the mirror, we see their eyes staring back at us, we see their hair color, dimples, freckles, or smile.

We are biologically connected to our mothers and fathers. And we tend to hate the parts of ourselves that we identify with the parent who hurt us. So when we can find no way to honor our parents, it does something to us … 

It affects how we see ourselves. We see ourselves as just a little less worthy of being honored by someone, a little less worthy of being admired, and a little less worthy of being loved because we are inextricably bound to a person who put scars on our hearts.

Find a way to honor your parents in your heart so you can stop associating yourself with a lie about who you are. Biology makes you related to another person, but it doesn’t make you eternally connected. 

And no matter what kind of parents you’ve had, there is one Father who you can always relate to. There is a Father who you can always connect your identity to because He made you. 

He knit you together in your mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:13) He chose your eye color. He gave you those dimples. He placed every curl on your head. He knows your laugh. And He recognizes each of your smiles.

He knows your every thought and move. He knows your yesterdays, todays, and all of your tomorrows. He is intimately familiar with every page of your life story. And He knows why it’s hard for you to show honor to your mother and father. 

God wants good things for you. Honoring your parents is good for your heart. Let your Father help you practice honor—not American Greetings, not Hallmark, not posting on Facebook or Instagram. Love yourself by taking the pressure off and reframing your picture of honor. 

6 Steps to Summer Self-Care

Author: Hannah Miskelley

With summer being around the corner, many look forward to sunny days and warmer nights. For some, summer brings a change in pace and a fresh mindset. The new season can bring new adjustments, such as a change in routine and/or support systems. For children and teens, summer can be an exciting time, but also a time of change in regard to routine and social interactions. Below are a few suggestions to incorporate into your summer routine to boost your overall physical and mental health.

  1. Maintain and Invest in Relationships: This summer, prioritize your support system and community. Developing a sense of meaningful connection within your relationships has been shown to boost overall well-being. 
  2. Make Time for Meditation, Prayer and Reflection: Summer brings beautiful sunrises and sunsets; try to find space in your day to unplug and find solitude. Meditation, whether in a spiritual sense, or just to check in with yourself is one of the easiest ways to improve our mental health.
  3. Get Outdoors: Connecting with nature, fresh air and sunlight does wonders for our mental health and mood. A couple of ways to incorporate getting outside daily could include taking a leisurely walk in the morning or after dinner, going for a hike, or taking your lunch break outside. 
  4. Try a New Exercise: Finding an exercise routine that makes you happy is a great way to boost endorphins and increase your overall physical and mental health. Try something new this summer like hiking, tennis, yoga, bike riding or even taking your strength training outside. 
  5. Review Your Current Sleep Schedule: When routines change in summer, due to school being out, increased vacations, and a later sunset, it is important to review your sleep schedule. It is recommended that we obtain 8-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep. A healthy, consistent sleep habit is an essential component of our mental health.
  6. Make a Summer Feel-Good Playlist: Music can be an effortless way to improve your mood and motivate you to get moving. Try to refresh your summer playlists and tune into what songs will boost your mood for the summer days ahead.

A change of seasons is a time for renewal and reflection. Even small changes to your routine can improve your self-care practice and overall mood. Make this summer the season of self-care!


Prioritizing Mental Wellbeing in the Summer