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My guest today is Kirsten Goffena who is a LPC (licensed professional counselor), RPT (registered play therapist), NCC (national certified counselor) and level 2 EMDR practitioner. She is the owner of Pathfinders Counseling LLC and located in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Kirsten offers various types of experiential therapy, such as play therapy, sand play, animal assisted, and works systemically. Systemically means she works with children and parents or the whole family. She has a newsletter in which she does “Life Hacks”. Today we are talking about how play therapy and animal assisted therapy, not only works with younger children, but with teenagers and families. Also how these two types of experiential modalities can help decrease anxiety and improve relationships.

In experiential therapy you are involving the whole being, which is a more holistic approach. “You are not just using your cognitive abilities or your mind, but using the body as well, sometimes called somatic, or the use of dance and movement.”

“Play therapy with young children works well because they don’t have the language. They can use the toys to express themselves. For children 12 and up I use play in different ways. I use art, music, sometimes we go out in nature and take the dog for a walk, which can help teens relax, and begin to trust the therapist.” Luna is Kirsten’s therapy dog and her presence helps everyone feel more relaxed and calm. Research shows animal assisted therapy can reduce anxiety.

Experiential therapy works well with teenagers.

Kirsten explained how play therapy can reduce anxiety with teenagers. “Anxiety is the number one issue I see these days. Trying to fit in, be the way society wants you to be, and pressures put onto them. They get to use their language in play therapy. Often parents will bring their children in and ask me to fix their child. The child then thinks there is something wrong with them. The experiential therapy I use can help them get to know themselves and hopefully get to where they value and love themselves. And where they can get to a place where they express themselves authentically in the world vs pretend to be somebody they are not, which is the underlying issue of anxiety or pressures.”

How does this process work with the parents?

“I want to bring the parents into the process. Children are functioning within multiple systems and the most important system is the family system. I may see the child one week and the parents the next week or do a joint (family) session. Depends on the comfort of the parents and the issue. Children can show their parents what they are learning in session. Children want to be seen and heard.”  Kirsten states that “having their voice heard by their parents, in my presence, can be very empowering for the children and the family.”

Parents often feel vulnerable or have shame come up about their child struggling and Kirsten works with giving support to the parents. Kirsten began this career when her children were teenagers and observed parents being shamed. “Aren’t we all in this together? It is already difficult being a parent…All parents I work with are honestly doing the best they can and love their children unconditionally.” Part of our role is helping support parents in addressing their fears or old family beliefs. Kirsten also emphasized the importance of parents taking good care of themselves. She is treating the whole family, not just the child. “It’s permission to take care of themselves (i.e. parents). (Parents)Your self-care is role modeling to your children and that is huge…it helps the whole family, calming the nervous system of whole family.”

For more information about Kirsten and her work please visit http://pathfinderscounselingllc.com/

You can sign up for her newsletter called “Life Hacks” on her website.

Book recommendations: You can find the links on my Resources espage

Gift of Imperfection by Brene Brown

The Defining Decade by Meg Jay (For young adult women in their 20’s)

Emotional Intelligence by Goldman

Daniel Siegel books

Play by Stewart Brown (Discusses why play is so important)