I recently took my daughter to visit our close friends in our old home town. We had moved from there more than a year ago and the girls had been inseparable friends before. My daughter had changed from a ballet dancer dressed in frills and sparkles to a tomboy who loved softball, running & cycling. Her tomboyish friend was now a star cheerleader & she had a new baby sister. The two girls had barely said hello when they were off running and gallivanting around the house, making up plays, throwing balls, jumping on the trampoline, playing school with their American Girl dolls and bowling on the WII.
Many patients come into therapy having lost touch with their inner children. Those children, having been hurt, rejected, ignored, or made to grow up too soon, become angry voices that burst out loudly at inappropriate moments or with inappropriate intensity. In therapy we help our clients to give their inner children permission to come out and speak their needs. Be these needs for comfort, connection, peace, play or expression, clients need to learn that feelings and needs are an integral part of their experience of living and cannot just be suppressed or shut down. How many alcohol and drug problems, eating disorders, and depressive episodes could we prevent by allowing our children just to be and to play without judging, criticizing, controlling, overscheduling, pressuring, neglecting, or abusing them. Mental imagery, creative writing, mindfulness, or asking questions that engage imagination and connect with clients' own metaphors can be used to reconnect clients with their childlike sense of playful exploration. We can encourage clients to connect with nature or to take time to nurture themselves. Nurturing their inner children in this way makes them feel happier, more open, and more alive. In this space, they can more freely connect with other people and with themselves in a spirit of playful exploration. Ironically, therapists can help clients to mature psychologically by teaching them how to be playful.