Prompts and most words during emotional expression are avoided, unless initiated by the client.

Creative Techniques: Self Care and Mandalas

During this phase, the creative techniques used are the ones used during the creative expression phase, since this is an extension of the creation. However, this is a good place to mention the importance of self-care (see Chapter 15). As you become more proficient at Creative Play Therapy you will walk with clients through difficult content, raw pain, and your own personal reactions to those who inflicted pain. To have the capacity to remain present with your clients, to reflect back their distorted beliefs and to maintain unconditional positive regard, you must have self-care practices that allow you to be fully authentic. To sit in the stuck, you need to be psychologically healthy. Failing to do this will result in burnout, compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma.

Creative Technique to Try

We require our internship students to explore journaling through manda- las, and we have mandala journals, too. A reflective practice is important, and we want to teach them a creative option. Blank mandalas provide the option of journaling in a creative way that does not require writing (although it could certainly include words). Get a sketch book or blank journal and draw a circle that nearly fills the page. You can use a compass, bowl or template. Fill the blank circles with whatever images and colors you need. Add a title and the date to help you when you review them. Play music if you like. With the rise in popularity of the mandala coloring books, some people find it relaxing to color the templates provided. If you like that, do it and enjoy the benefits. However, templates do not provide the reflective practice of externalizing your personal experiences into a creative form like blank mandalas.

Case Study

First Name: Nala Age: 25

One day something terrible happened. Something that would change the entire course of the rest of my life. I was a collegiate athlete experiencing the freedom that came with being a freshman at college. The freedom I felt was intoxicating. I was a first-generation college student with an athletic scholarship. But one day, one small moment changed all of that.

I had a seizure in my first week of college classes, and it was completely terrifying. I was shocked. I was embarrassed. I was shaken to my core. The body that once had earned me a scholarship was backfiring on me. I felt as if I had lost complete control. The nurse told me everything I should avoid and explained everything I should do to never have one again. This prompted the saga of panic attacks and extreme anxiety that crippled me for the following years to come.

I was so freaked out that it would happen again, so I stopped leaving my dorm room, stopped making friends. I became obsessive over the things that nurse had told me to do to avoid having a seizure ever again. I ate the "exact" balanced meals at the exact "right" time. I drank the exact amount of water my body was "supposed" to need. I became what I call an anxiety robot. I began to fear just about everything. I eventually dropped out of college and moved home. My life was crumbling before my very eyes. Everything I had worked so hard for was slowly falling away. One seizure. One traumatic event shook me to my core.

I was so afraid that it would happen again that I started to fear just about everything. I was too afraid to take a shower alone, for fear that I would fall and have a seizure and crack my skull open, so I took baths. But then I was too afraid I would have a seizure in the bath so I would have my mom sit in the bathroom while I was bathing. Before I knew it, my life became smaller and smaller by the second. I was a fragile shell of a human.

Fast forward, with my parents help, I was re-enrolled in school. I was suffering through daily panic attacks to attend class because it was important to my parents that I graduate from college. I left just about every class to run to the bathroom because I was hot, sweaty, and nauseous from panic that I was going to have a seizure again in front of everyone.

Eventually I began seeing a sports psychologist who saw how my symptoms affected my entire body. At the time I literally looked like a walking ball of anxiety and he suggested I try getting active again. I thought, no way. My problem was in my brain, not by body. Back then I did not understand how the human body can hold trauma and emotion. I couldn't see how my mental illness affected my body. My boyfriend at the time started running, and I tried it on the treadmill one day. I was shocked at how the feeling of running felt similar to the feeling of panic attack in my body. The only difference was that I consciously induced the feeling and then was able to feel it go back down. At the time I didn't realize that I was exposing myself to the somatic response that I feared so much. I just knew that I felt better after I ran, and I was quickly addicted. I didn't know why running helped but I knew it did. So, I just kept running. I craved it. One mile slowly became ten. Before I knew it, I was a runner. It wasn't about the distance. It wasn't about the sport. It wasn't about fitness. It was about feeling my heart rate rise to where it felt out of control and then recognizing that I could always bring it back down. I began processing this with my therapist and I still couldn't understand how it worked. I still had a lot of struggle and had to fight a tough battle to graduate college, and never did I think the day would come that I would live without panic and fear. I still didn't understand the connection between the two things that had healed me: therapy and movement.

Now I have to remember that sometimes talk therapy just doesn't cut it. Our bodies hold more than we are aware of and if you can allow it the freedom to release and express, they will begin to heal themselves. I thought I had lost my body that I once controlled but instead I gained a greater understanding of how this beautiful body of mine works. It worked for me and gave me my life back. I continue to run every day. It's my daily remembrance and practice of self-care. Never would I have thought that I would find meaning and gratitude for the seizure that once crippled me. But here I am, grateful as can be because I can now help heal others.


Ornish, D., & Ornish, A. (2019). Undo it!: How simple lifestyle changes can reverse most chronic disease. New York: Ballantine Books.

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