Attending to Attention- Developing a Training Model- Caldwell 1995 (ATP)

Body Identity

Sensation, Movement and Emotion

Bridging Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology with Somatic Psychology

And the Waves Play Through It

Adult Group Play Therapy: Passion and Purpose

The Ethics of Touch


Adult Group Play Therapy: Passion and Purpose

Christine Caldwell, Ph.D., LPC, BC-DMT

Published in: Play Therapy with Adults, ed. Charles Schaefer, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ, 2003.


As members of the primate family, we humans embody two characteristics that enable us to engage in group play therapy, both in controlled and natural circumstances. First, we are a social species. We like to hang together in groups because it increases our survival as individuals. The benefit we derive from being together is greater than the cost of managing our social relationships. Second, we are lifelong learners. Playing has often been correlated with learning. Biologists note that species that must learn how to be adults are also species that play (Fagan, 1981), and that theories of why play exists often cite plays' ability to foster and integrate learning (Levy, 1978; Huizinga, 1950; Bekoff and Byers, 1998). The noted physician Ashley Montague felt that the best way to grow old was to "grow young" by continuing to play our whole lives (1981). Since it seems natural that we like to play together in groups our whole lives, developing models for group adult play therapy seems an obvious thing to do.

Play therapy tends to specialize in working with children, largely because play is every child's medium for negotiating their inner and outer worlds. One of the reasons adult play therapy has not been as well developed may be due to a cultural taboo against it, seeing it as childish, frivolous, and contrary to the productive work required of us. This taboo may exist because we labor under the misperception that adult play is essentially similar to child's play.

Before we can begin to articulate any adult play therapy paradigms we must overcome this misconception and see adult play as potentially quite different than the play of children. Yes, both child's play and adult play are seemingly purposeless, and done in specially defined times and places. Both tend to feel pleasurable, and involve physical and social risk taking. Both involve twisting and stretching normal actions until they lose their usual contexts. But several crucial differences exist, and they have to do with the underlying differences in the developmental tasks in which adults find themselves. Children basically have one job - to play. They play to learn, to grow, to develop capacities, to anticipate change, and to recover from upsets. We grown-ups have these jobs and more. We also need to take care of others, to go to work and be productive, to cope with loss and aging, to find meaning and purpose in our lives, to feel creative, to problem solve, to self reflect, to express our sexuality, to develop our spirituality, and to get ready to die. It is because of these extra developmental tasks that we need to appreciate how different adult play can and should be from the play of children.

This chapter stresses these differences so that we can design play therapy groups that meet the developmental needs of adults. It begins by reviewing group therapy theory, and weaves it into play therapy dynamics. It continues by introducing a model for adult group play therapy developed by the author, called the Moving Cycle. It ends with a call for lifelong play as our means of continuing transformation.


Abraham Maslow and other personality theorists champion our social nature by insisting that human personality develops inside social contexts and via social interests (Adler, 1927/1957). We carry inside us an inherent need and drive to belong (Maslow, 1968), to alleviate isolation (Fromm, 1956/1974), to bond with others (Sullivan, 1953/1968), and to rectify disturbed interpersonal relationships (Horney, 1945). These theorists felt that adults don't fully self actualize until they gain a greater acceptance of others, display a deep social interest, form more deep and loving interpersonal relationships, and behave more democratically with others (Maslow, 1970). Clearly, groups form a central role in our lifelong developmental tasks.

Western psychotherapy has long valued groups as a curative experience for all types of adults. Yalom (1975) has noted that groups can instill hope, promote a sense of belonging, impart information, cultivate altruism, correct dysfunctional primary family imprints, develop social skills, facilitate socialization, model relational skills, provide emotional support and catharsis, help people bond with each other, and address issues of life's meaning and purpose. Because groups naturally follow stages such as forming, storming, norming, and performing, adults engaging in curative groups can recover an ability to come together, make and keep agreements, deal with conflict and differences, feel like an integral part of something, give and receive feedback, and get things done.

Because group dynamics occur whenever people come together, the phenomena of sub-grouping, alliances, scapegoating, self-disclosure, and character strategy can be flushed up and given an opportunity to heal in a psychotherapeutically oriented group. In addition, Yalom (1975) and others (Corey, 2000) posit that groups consciously and unconsciously address the adult tasks of knowing oneself through the eyes of others, forming a permeable "self" membrane that allows intimate contact to occur, and fulfilling the adult need for connectedness and belonging.

Being a member of a defined and consistent group gives us myriad opportunities for social learning. Levy (1978) believes that play gives us the opportunity to engage in social learning without the fear of experiencing serious repercussions that might occur if we attempt to learn social skills in our normal "for real" world. Bekoff and Allen (1998) find that social play in both human and non-human animals involves "play signals," non-verbal postures and gestures that broadcast play intentions and help start it up and keep it going. Both reading and broadcasting intentions such as 'what comes next is play, not aggression' builds trust. Play signals involve eye contact, body posture, facial expression, voice prosody, body level, and verbal invitation. It hones our ability to have both verbal and non-verbal acuity in social signaling. By engaging in and practicing play signals as children we may be learning crucial non-verbal communication skills that form the substrate of an adult sense of being able to read others intentions and broadcast our own. Non-verbal behavior continues to form the bulk of our communication throughout our lifespan. Adult play may be an important means of continuously refining and extending our non-verbal language skills. Adult play therapy may function to help us recover lost play signal reading and broadcasting abilities, abilities often obstructed by trauma and neglect.

Steven Siviy (in Bekoff and Byers, 1998) has found that rough and tumble play amongst rats (a highly social species) helps wire the brain's pleasure and reward centers. Lewis (2000) believes that social play wires up the social brain. The neocortex, the area of the brain that houses social reasoning, is largest in species that engage in social play. Studies of murderers conducted by Stuart Brown found that normal play behavior was virtually absent throughout the lives of highly violent, antisocial men. Play deprivation and/or major play abnormalities occurred in this population at a 90% level (1998). This finding helped to bring to light the possible effects of disturbed childhood play, but it also noted that adult play was disturbed in these men as well. The popular author Tom Robbins once quipped that it's never too late to have a happy childhood. Perhaps adult play in group settings can help to remediate some of the physical, emotional, and social deficits of an abnormal childhood.

Most researchers report that adults play a lot less than children do, but this finding may reflect a lack of understanding about the nature of adult play. In childhood, play is largely freestanding, meaning that it's observable as a separate entity in time and space. In adults play becomes more imbedded. This means that as adults we can do many purposeful, productive things playfully, mixing seriousness and frivolity together into the same activity at a much greater rate than children can. Adults do engage in less freestanding play than children, but this may be because as we age we become more highly adept at multi-developmental tasking, able to laugh while we drive, dance while we vacuum the rug, and joke while we work out a budget. Perhaps by the time we are quite old we could be capable of playing while we do anything whatsoever. What a skill to develop!

Another reason that we may make the mistake of thinking play is less important for adults is that we don't realize that many behaviors we do as adults frequently are not seen as play behavior when they really are play at its best. Among these are making art, making love, and making spirit. We tend to define play as a goaless activity done in the moment just for the sake of doing it. Using this definition adult sexuality is a type of play, as is all art making, as is prayer, meditation and contemplation. We feel best about these behaviors when we don't do them for reward or gain, but from an inborn drive that generates its own satisfaction. We clearly feel that these activities hold a tremendous amount of meaning and purpose, but in the moment of doing them they serve no immediate function.

Play behavior carries within it both randomizing and organizing elements. In other words, playing a sport where you have do actions with precision and timing help you to become more organized. The rulebook for major league baseball is over 600 pages long, and we still manage to have fun at it and feel good about how predictable it can be. Play also messes things up, flummoxing the typical way we do things or think about things, much like a good joke or a brainteaser. Certain types of play randomize our experience, and may train us to deal with the unexpected (Spinka, Newberry, and Bekoff, 2001), an important adult capacity.

As adults we have quite a bit of work to do, and play seems to function as a protective mechanism against the costs of this work; a buffer against stress, a support during life transitions, a means of forming bonds and alliances, a jump start for creativity and problem-solving. It may also counteract the pull of addiction, helping us to create our own natural pleasures and not need to rely on chemically induced ones (Caldwell, 1996). Play may be a factor in addictions recovery as well, possibly helping to restore brain chemistry depleted by addictive behaviors (Caldwell, in Heller, 2001).

Brain studies have shown that trauma tends to hijack the emotional and defensive centers of the brain (limbic), causing them to heat up with a high level of activity, while the rational centers of the brain (prefrontal cortex) remain effectively switched off (Perry, 1997). This traps a person in an emotionally flooded state where they cannot think or act effectively. What other researchers have found is that play and other creative activities tend to cause the whole brain to operate, but in a cooler, more cortically efficient way. Thinking and behavior are less constrained, and a person feels more at choice about what they feel and do. The current therapy favored for trauma recovery is called the Resource model, a gentle, experiential process of finding resources within oneself in order to heal. Play can be one such resource. By recovering play we can recover sanity and health.

One of the features of adult group play is that it can provide social resourcing for its members. Members of an adult play therapy group effectively become playmates for each other, a recapitulation of a developmental need that can counteract the social isolation so common in adults who seek therapy. Altruism and helping behavior also increase when we feel bonded to people, which not only provides for the health of a society but also helps people feel good about themselves.

One of the other features of adult play behavior is its capacity to facilitate embodiment. Embodiment locates us in our bodies, in the present moment. We generate and attend to sensation, and we move in ways that both nurture and challenge lungs, muscles, and bones. Our bodies in turn generate endorphins and dopamine, our internal pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters. We experience a deep immersion in the present moment, a sense of focus that feels both intense and effortless. As psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1996) puts it, we enter a state of flow. The flow state heralds and supports creativity, and has been described by CEO's and scientists as well as artists (Gardner, 1993). Again, therapy that helps adults to recover this natural state of flow can profoundly support adult developmental tasks.

Fred Donaldson (1993) coined the term adulterated play . By this he meant that often as we assume the tasks of adulthood, the natural spontaneous play behavior of our childhood falls away, and we become rigid and rule-bound. Our play degenerates into "adulterated" proscribed games and contests that cause us to lose resiliency, social intimacy, and creativity. He maintains that as adults we need to continue the free form, improvisational physical play that children and other social animals tend to engage in so easily. He takes his message all over the world, playing with people in war-torn areas. He feels strongly that if we stay playful in this basic way that we feel so connected to others and to the world that we become less capable of violence, abuse, and victimization. Perhaps adult play therapy holds this promise as well - that the benefits of adult play may have far-reaching consequences in the areas of social justice and human connection.


I developed the Moving Cycle after taking years to examine successful therapy sessions to see if I could discern any kind of pattern or sequence of events in them. Does healing follow a predictable course across time? People often heal with no therapeutic interventions. What natural mechanisms are going on there? After years of observation, I did indeed observe a pattern, and out of this observation came the Moving Cycle. The pattern I saw seemed to predict not the content of what a group would experience, but the process of opening, deepening, committing, completing, and integrating. I believe now that when we engage in healing and are allowed to do so from the dictates of our essential nature, we unravel illness in a sequenced fashion, undoing our injuries and recovering our health in an individualized yet predictable way. Our presence in a supportive group can magnify this process.

As the name implies, the process of healing involves a cycle or spiral of events. The spirilic nature of healing allows us to orient towards healing as a continuous process, and reinforces the concept that there is no end point, no “arriving”, but only increasingly satisfying and nurturing states of flow.

Healing, growth, and transformation seem to occur in four phases. Each phase must be successfully resolved in order for the next one to occur. Often we will move into the next phase momentarily, then fall back in order to really complete with the last one. We can see these phases in physical healing, emotional healing, cognitive healing, and transpersonal/spiritual healing. The phases are the same, and they all involve a recovery of both freestanding and embedded play.

Awareness is the first step onto the Moving Cycle. It commences as group play therapy begins, and it also begins each session. Limited awareness moves people to come into therapy, as they tell themselves "Hey, something is going on that I want to take a look at." We draw ourselves towards healing when something that was stored in the dark needs to be exposed to the light. We gravitate towards others when we need to heal via the presence of others.

This first phase involves focusing our attention on sensations, feelings and thoughts that were not previously acknowledged. Awareness is a kind of light, and when we create a beam of that light and shine it on some part of our existence attention occurs. We all share a birthright of the ability to pay unconditional attention to the original details of life. Often our family or our culture trains us away from this ability as a way to perpetuate entrenched patterns. Patterns limit attention in order to conserve energy. If we are trained to stop attending to the raw data of reality then we are unable to participate fully in self-regulation. If we begin our play the way nature designed it, with the practice of paying attention to our physical, emotional, and cognitive experiences, we create a rich substrate of consciousness. Conscious attention in and of itself is one of the primary components of healing and transformation, the first source of fuel we need for the healing journey. Our beings love the light. Another way to put it is that we all share a common developmental task - to live a revealed life. Play can be one of the most powerful means we possess to support a self-reflective life.

Focusing our attention in the Awareness phase also involves the development of an observing or “witness self", because we acknowledge that a part of us is “attending” to another part of us that is “experiencing”. Witnessing generates healing in and of itself, as it allows us to acknowledge and go through what we are feeling without fixating upon it as part of our identity. It allows the statement “I am having this feeling (it will come and it will go), and I am not this feeling (it is not a permanent part of who I am).” This ability to witness ourselves allows us to disentangle our pain, which is in the moment and will come and go, from our suffering, which is a fusion of present pain with unresolved past experience (dysfunctional patterns). Healing group encounters also need this witness self. We all have a deep need to feel seen and understood, and we enter groups in order to be seen and understood, while at the same time fearing that we will be criticized instead of witnessed, controlled instead of understood. At the same time we may not know how to pay attention to someone else without projecting onto them. Play practices that cultivate high quality attention and awareness, both of oneself and of one another, form the opening phase of an adult play therapy group.

Einstein once opined that what we decide to look at determines what we see. He also noted that we couldn't solve a problem in the same state of consciousness that the problem arose in. The Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh once said that all views are wrong views, but since it is in our nature to have views, we might as well relax and get them as accurate as possible. The Awareness Phase is about just such a relaxing, a surrender to whatever arises in our attentional field, coupled with a willingness to change our vantage point so that our view is different, and an understanding that any view is not ultimate truth, but a transient facet of it.

Charles Darwin (1998) stated that attention or conscious concentration o n almost any part of the body produces some direct physical effect on it. A felt shift (Gendlin, 1976) occurs in the Awareness phase, when we let our attention drift over or focus on the less arguable, more concrete qualities of our bodies and our experience of others bodies. We literally let our attention play in these initial moments. We gently focus it in the present moment, on ourselves and others in the group. This free play of attention stimulates cognitive flow, emotional resiliency, and physical alertness, and moves us to the second phase of the Moving Cycle.

Owning what arises comes next. High quality attention brings hidden things into the light, and the Owning phase is about taking these revealed feelings and thoughts and working with them directly in the group. The Owning phase follows Einstein's idea that we must change our consciousness in order to solve problems. Numerous therapists, most notably Stan Grof (1985), believe, as many indigenous cultures do, that all healing takes place in an altered state of consciousness. In the Owning phase we use play elements to descend or ascend out of the patterns of relating we are used to, and this alters our consciousness until new relational solutions emerge.

In the act of Owning we take deep personal responsibility for ourselves and for what the group presents to us. For it is within this" ability to respond" that newly revealed material from the unconscious can shift from being unowned and unrecognized to being empowered. Owning gives us the energy, the next source of fuel, to relate sincerely. It generates self-efficacy, and an internal locus of control. In this realm we tell the deepest truths we can about our experience. We back off of interpretation and rest into the primal nourishment of description. For in description we can get as close as it gets to what is real and true. When we do that in a group, we create intimacy, belonging, and social healing.

We typically resist Owning through classical means such as projection, denial, dissociation, depression, and distraction. The task of this phase is to make the play sequence more important than any of these old urges. The Awareness phase is about a change of attention. The Owning phase is about a shift in intention. We make a commitment to the emergent moment, and make it more important than the old pattern. What gets stimulated in the moment of shifting our intention is our fear of death. We tend to be identified with our patterns, and we rightly fear their death as our death. A good Owning Phase will kill you. It will dissolve the pattern I call me in some way, and in its place put new experiences that may feel truer, but may also feel more tender, vulnerable, and unfamiliar. When we own our experiences while in the presence of others, we let the truth do the healing. The Bible has told us that the truth will set us free. It certainly forms one of the cornerstones of personal and social liberation.

When a group plays together in an atmosphere of ownership, bodies relax, and satisfaction, the natural birthright of play, occurs. We have returned to a state of increased wholeness, together. The third phase begins as we learn to tolerate and move with this satisfaction. Marianne Williamson would call it a return to love (1992). I call it the Appreciation phase, for this moment requires that we appreciate, welcome, hold, and caress our new-found relatedness as if it were our own child we had just birthed, one we had known before only as someone buried deep within us and growing. After the labors of Owning, we bond with each other, we spend time greeting and caring for each other.

Many modern therapies ignore this crucial phase, not realizing that most of us need help tolerating and basking in feelings of satisfaction and love. Most of us have been enculturated by groups such as family, society, or religion to limit our positive feelings. Even when the Owning Phase has uncovered feelings of rage or grief, our revealing these feelings to others and taking responsibility for them gestates new experiences that feel whole, true, and relieving. Appreciation involves spending some time with this wholeness. The Appreciation Phase brings us back to a shift of attention. Thich Nhat Hanh has written that attention is like sunlight and water for a plant. What we pay attention to will grow. If we want to grow a more whole, satisfied self, we take this time to find play behaviors that celebrate and support that self while doing the same for others.

The Appreciation phase forms the essential building block of a bonded relationship. If we can unconditionally ride whatever experience we are having, then we don't have to defend or control our relationships with others. When we stay in dialogue with ourselves, we are capable of intimate dialogue with others. The play behaviors of the Appreciation phase recover the styles of social play Fred Donaldson spoke of in Playing by Heart.

The fourth stage is Action, and it aligns us with the very real truth that we have to leave the room now and go back out into our daily lives. When the Appreciation stage is completed, the group experiences inner healing. In order for this healing to be permanent it must find a place in our outside environment. This means literally using our thoughts, feelings, and our body differently, and committing this difference via daily play behaviors. Only then can we truly change, and contribute this change to the benefit of the external environment. Contributing to the world may be one of our prime directives, and the Action phase honors this directive. Personal healing has no reference point, no point at all, if it does not extend into the community. It is from personal healing that planetary healing becomes possible.

The Action phase is about transitioning into the outer world, and an intention to manifest ourselves differently within it. Perhaps we will walk in a more relaxed manner. Perhaps a reluctance to reveal ourselves has melted a bit. We need to practice this change and commit it to our behavioral repertoire; or else it will dissolve, as all dreams and impulses do.

The Moving Cycle, though an ordered sequence, is individual to each person and each group in each situation. We are all on many Moving Cycles in our lifetime, some which take moments to complete and still others that will complete as we lie on our deathbed. Each phase liberates a portion of our energy and applies it to our healing, our growth, and our creativity. We have tendencies or patterns of obstructing our Moving Cycles at characteristic places, tending, for example, to have difficulty with the Appreciation phase no matter what the content of the specific situation is. But this ability to focus on the process of wounding and healing, rather than getting bogged down and led astray by the content of the wound, allows us to heal more efficiently and completely. We are accessing our core nature more than the less-than-accurate reconstruction of our personal history. We are addressing our habitual withdrawals from experience which starve our core being, more than chasing down the specifics of each withdrawal.

Clinical Features of the Moving Cycle

Using the Moving Cycle in a group play therapy setting involves several other important clinical issues. Adults tend to harbor play phobias; leftover play wounds from childhood punishment or neglect. By educating the group about the different types of play, we can help group members realize what types of play they overuse, to the exclusion of others. For instance, some members may get uncomfortable with storytelling, while others don't want to do anything physical. One member may feel comfortable with sports, while another thinks sports are horrifying.

I like to use the forming phase of groups to take each member's play history. This is often a written exercise that each member first shares with a partner, and then with the whole group. It asks what their earliest play memories are, and who their playmates were. It asks if any types of play were punished or neglected, and which ones were praised. It includes remembrances of getting hurt while playing, as well as memories of spectacular play triumphs. By asking group members to remember their history with play, they can begin to appreciate how they came to be the player they are today. Members can identify and get help with old play wounds. By asking them to share this history with others, members find that others had different as well as similar experiences. An individual can recruit someone who loves games to help them get over their fear of appearing stupid, and can in turn help that person get over feeling clumsy in physical play.

Using the members play histories in the Awareness phase allows the group to use the Owning phase to recover from play deficits. The deficit may show up in certain types of play, or it may arise in the context of play signaling. One of the tasks of children's play is to teach the social signals that surround play. When play is traumatized or neglected in a person's history, that person is prevented from learning the complex non-verbal signals that help keep adult play safe. Perhaps one of the most powerful examples of this is in the area of childhood sexual abuse. One of the theories that explains why this population has such a higher incidence of adult sexual abuse is that the original trauma prevented the child from the safe and gradual practice of normal sexual play signals that occur in flirtation. When as an adult this person is not reading sexual signals appropriately, he or she may fall into situations where they assume one thing and find out that their partner assumed and expected another. One of the important adult group play therapy tasks, then, is to create a safe environment in the Owning phase where individuals can develop and practice play signaling skills they may not have engaged in as children.

Adults often work in groups, and sooner or later all work groups must engage in creative problem solving. In an adult play therapy group the Awareness phase is used to shift consciousness so that flow states can occur, and adults can support the creative energy that ensues. The conscious task of facilitating creativity can often guide an adult group. Csikszentmihalyi (1996) has beautifully laid out the components of creative functioning in his writings. By engaging in play processes that recreate the necessary behaviors and states of consciousness associated with creativity, groups can facilitate the very important adult developmental task of leading a creative life.

Group play therapy for adults can also identify and reinforce transpersonal and spiritual goals. In these groups members can pay conscious attention to increasing their connection to self, others, and higher purposes. Some may find that their prayer or meditation has been far too serious a thing, and that God might just appreciate it if they lightened up. This kind of lightening up can be seen as the road to enlightenment by some. And it can help us to face life's transitions, especially the transitions into aging, body changes, and death and dying, with equanimity and grace.

Play behaviors may recapitulate a fundamental feature of any psychotherapy. When a session goes well, it oscillates. Whatever the symptom the client or the group comes in with, our ability to play with this symptom resides in our challenging ourselves to enter the symptom - to get curious about our anger or our headache or our conflict at work - and then to relieve that same symptom via relaxing, being comforted, breathing fully, or changing the subject. Healing requires that we know how to investigate ourselves as well as how to comfort ourselves. Both skills contribute to our healing. Play oscillates in much the same manner - between seriousness and frivolity, between strong efforts and effortless repose, between self and other. In a play therapy group this oscillation helps members to use the fundamental rhythms of play to effect the fundamental changes of healing.

Case Study

The group slowly formed as members arrived, many having driven over an hour in late afternoon rush hour traffic. A circle formed in pieces as each person grabbed a large pillow and sat down. They had been doing this every Monday evening for over 9 months. The therapist signaled the start of the group. She asked that everyone take a moment and scan their bodies, tracking sensation, energy level, emotions, thoughts. This began the Awareness phase. The therapist announced that they would pick up on last week's theme and work on knowing what you want. She remarked that in order to know what you want you have to know what you feel.

The group commenced with everyone standing. Music was put on, and each person was asked to dance out what they were feeling, and one by one each person demonstrated with expressive movement how they felt while the others first watched and then tried on that featured dance. One person stomped and roared, another mimicked a rag doll, another folded her arms across her chest and frowned. People began to laugh and to speculate about each other's day.

Other Possible Awareness Phase Activities -

•  Sensory awareness activities - reporting inner states to others

•  Body image drawing - tracing ones body on paper and filling in the details, both physical and psychological

•  Taking play histories and sharing them

•  Oscillating attention, oscillating listening outside with listening inside

•  Character work - acting out various characters adults take on and use

•  Pairs introducing each other - how my partner likes to play, what they are afraid of, what they want from this group

•  Full breathing

•  Psychodrama play -how do I get people's attention? - seduction, threat, whining, bargaining, pathos, humor

•  Group drawing - where we are now - each person contributes a line

•  All My Relations - Activity done in a circle, one person in the center calls out some characteristic (for instance "All my relations who have brown hair") and everyone with brown hair has to rush to a different spot. Last one left is in middle and calls out the next characteristic.

The group continued as one person remarked that the loud roar made by another member bothered her. This other member said he resented being indirectly told to be quiet. The Owning phase begins as members deal with responses and reactions to each other. The therapist asks if it's OK to work with this as a group, and everyone says yes. First the woman is asked to "sculpt" the man into a position that reflects how she sees him in this moment. She raises his arms over his head, asks him to open his mouth wide, and take a wide, menacing stance. The therapist asks the woman to share how she is feeling as she looks at her sculpture. She reports feeling small and helpless and scared. The Owning phase deepens as both risk seeing and being seen by others.

Then the man sculpts the woman. He also puts her in a wide stance, with her hands on her hips and a scowl on her face. He asks her to occasionally wag her finger at him disapprovingly. He reports feeling chastised, guilty and resentful. Both now are experimenting with social signaling and its contribution to non-verbal communication. The therapist asks the two to switch stances, giving the woman permission to roar and the man permission to disapprove. They start to laugh as they get into their now roles, and things get playful. Then the rest of the group is asked to try on these characters, and different individuals start to exaggerate the stances and give the characters names like Gertrude and Aunt Louise and Blowhard. The Owning phase completes as members build empathy and reduce projection, taking ownership of their own fears by trying on qualities in each other's bodies. The group also learns that it can tolerate negative affect and get through it safely.

Other Possible Owning Phase Activities:

•  Getting to know my defenses - playing out fight, flight, freeze, and faint as an animal

•  Relationship sculpting - how it was in my family - how it is in this group - how I want it to be

•  Character work - victim, rescuer, persecutor triangle - role playing, playing with levels of character, guessing each other's character

•  Charged breathing in relationship - breathing on ones own, breathing as a group, intensifying breath in order to vitalize the energy in the group

The group comes back together, and members share what it was like to play with their character as well as take on other's characters. Time is spent talking about the energy or wisdom or resource the character holds. Participants are then asked to draw their own representation of the inner need the character is fulfilling and the outer shell of how the character acts. Members then share their drawings with each other. The therapist designs an exercise where each person goes to one other person and reveals their inner need directly, asking each pair to breathe fully and let their body express this tender place via gesture as well as voice. The recipient is asked to say "I hear you, I see you" and any other affirming comments they care to share. The Appreciation phase occurs as members connect with each other and find that they can express themselves truthfully and directly. Some minutes are spent with the partners talking about this experience with each other. The Appreciation phase works on the ability to tolerate positive affect while in relationship, and to increase bonding and belonging amongst the groups members. Appreciation also strengthens the healing properties of gratitude and affirmation. The therapist reminds the group that many people believe that unexpressed appreciations are a relational toxin.

Other Possible Appreciation Phase Activities:

•  What I like about you, what I like about me exercise

•  Exercise in making others laugh

•  Writing notes about 1 thing you like about each person, collected, collated & given to each, & they have to read these out loud and breathe & make eye contact

•  Telling a love story - passing the narrative so that each person creates the next line - processing afterwards by examining love themes

The therapist informs the group that they have ten minutes left, and asks what the group would like to do to feel complete for now. She suggests that the members focus on how to apply the character work they did in the session to their daily lives. The Action phase is meant to clean up any incompletes in the group, review the session, terminate the time together, apply group discoveries to the outside world, and set goals in the outside world.

Several group members wanted to check in with the two members who had been in conflict earlier. They asked how each was feeling towards the other. They both smiled at each other, and one stuck out her tongue at the other. Everyone laughed, and for a few minutes the group commented on the "sibling" energy between the two members in conflict. The group decided to work on sibling issues next time. The therapist asked each member to bring in a play story that involved a sibling as a way to start the next group. The group ended in a standing circle, each person pledging to play with the character they had found that evening. Several members stated these intentions while in their character, "hamming it up" for the group.

Other Possible Action Phase Activities:

•  Writing up ideas for daily play projects and sharing them

•  Unison Dancing

•  Group drawing - where we are now

•  Drawing our group time line - on butcher paper - with all significant events on it

•  "If I were to die tomorrow, how would I play until then" exercise

•  Parallel lines, facing each other - 1 minute of non-verbal play, 1 minute verbal completion with person facing you, then step to the side to do the same with the next person

•  Time to speak out any incompletes

•  Goodbye ritual - group created


The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung once voiced the theory that the unconscious is infinite. When he said this he meant to both challenge and reassure us. We can be assured that it isn't necessary to try for a completely conscious life - we are meant to have shadows. And we also have a responsibility to look into those shadows for the rest of our lives. As adults we can address this task by dissolving old wounds and by cultivating lost pleasures. Play therapy can turn us in both these directions - into the healing and into the natural states of positive affect that healing makes possible.

The Moving Cycle was presented as one means of recovering natural pleasure, particularly the pleasure that we can find in each other's company. Developmental psychologists often note that wounding always takes place in the context of relationships, and that healing must do so as well. By using play therapy groups to both stimulate and redirect old wounds, we can grow younger as we grow older, more able to play with each other and with life.



Ackerman, D. (1999). Deep play . New York: Random House.

Adams, J. (1986). Conceptual blockbusting: A guide to better ideas . Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Adler, A. (1927/1957). Understanding human nature . Original publication: 1927. Hardcover English edition: New York: Greenberg. Paperback reprint: Greenwich, CN: Fawcett, 1957.

Bekoff, M., & Allen, C. (1998). Intentional communication and social play: How and why animals negotiate and agree to play. In Bekoff, M., & Byers, J. (Eds.), Animal play: Evolutionary, comparative, and ecological perspectives (pp. 97-114). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Berman, M. (1989). Coming to our senses: Body and spirit in the hidden history of the west . New York: Bantam Books.

Brown, S. (1998). Play as an organizing principle: Clinical evidence and personal observations, in Animal play: Evolutionary, comparative, and ecological perspectives . Ed. Bekoff, M. and Byers, J. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Caldwell, C. (1995). Life dancing itself: The role of movement and play in evolution . Revision, 17 , (4), 43-47.

Caldwell, C. (1996). Getting our bodies back : Recovery, healing and transformation through body-centered psychotherapy . Boston: Shambhala.

Corey, G. (2000). Theory and practice of group counseling (5 th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience . New York: Harper Perennial.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of discovery and exploration . New York: Harper Perennial.

Darwin, C. (1872, 1998). The Expression of emotion in man and animals . New York: Oxford University Press.

Donaldson, F. O. (1993). Playing by heart: The vision and practice of belonging . Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications.

Fagan, R. (1981). Animal play behavior . New York: Oxford University Press.

Fromm, E. (1956/1974). The art of loving . New York: Harper & Row. Reprint: New York: Perennial, 1974).

Gendlin, E. (1976). Focusing , New York:

Gardner, H. (1993). Creating Minds: An anatomy of creativity seen through the lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Ghandi . New York: Basic books.

Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York: Bantam Books.

Grof, S. (1985). Beyond the brain: Birth, death and transcendence in psychotherapy . New York: SUNY.

Heller, M. (Ed.). (2001). The flesh of the soul: The body we work with . New York: Peter Lang.

Horney, K. (1945). Our inner conflicts: A constructive theory of neurosis . New York: Norton.

Huizinga, J. (1950). Homo ludens: A study of the play element in culture . London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Levy, J. (1978). Play behavior . Malabar, Florida: Krieger Publishing.

Lewis, K. (2000). A comparative study of primate play behavior , Folia Primatologica , 71 , 417.

Maslow, A. H. (1968). Toward a psychology of being (2 nd ed.). New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Maslow, A.H. (1970). Motivation and personality (2 nd ed.). New York: Harper & Row.

Montague, A. (1981). Growing young . New York: Bergin & Garvey.

Nachmanovitch, S. (1990). Free play: Improvisation in life and art . New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher.

Perry, B. (1997). "Incubated in terror: Neurodevelopmental factors in the "cycle of violence."" In Children in a violent society , Osofsky, J. ed. New York: Guilford Press.

Spinka, M., Newberry, R., & Bekoff, M. (2001). Mammalian play: Training for the unexpected, The Quarterly Review of Biology , 76 , (2), 141-168.

Sullivan, H. S. (1953/1968). The interpersonal theory of psychiatry . New York: Norton. Reprint: 1968.

Williamson, M. (1992). A Return to love . New York:

Yalom, I. D. (1975). The theory and practice of group psychotherapy (2 nd ed.). New York: Basic Books.