Although I haven’t known him that long, the thing that stands out most about Dr. Eric Green is the depth of his knowledge of Jungian theory and his ability to implement it in his work with children. Eric is the author/editor of numerous DVDs and books including The Handbook of Jungian Play Therapy with Children and Adolescents, The Mandala Coloring Book, and most recently Counseling Families. Eric is gifted in his ability to understand and recognize the archetypes of children and adolescents. He helps young clients to process their emotions, work through issues and gain insight, by using the therapeutic power of the mandala, sandplay, miniatures, and other expressive tools. Read on to learn more about Eric Green and Jungian play therapy, as his thorough and comprehensive answers can speak for themselves.
1.) What got you initially interested in Jung’s psychology, one that seems removed from the mainstream or popular psychological thinking?
My uncle is a Jungian-oriented Catholic monsignor and introduced me to Jung’s writings, along with Joseph Campbell, Jean Houston, James Hillman, and Thomas Moore at a very young age. The spirituality and symbolism inherent within Jung’s archetypal psychology provided a new way to view for me to perceive the world around me make sense of suffering as well as meaning in my tumultuous adolescent developmental epoch. From a young age, I remember looking up to my uncle and wanting to like the same things he enjoyed. Later on, he would take me on many trips, infusing his Judeo-Christian, progressive beliefs with Jung’s psychology as part of our cultural experiences. I remember having a lengthy discussion with him, at about 13-years old, while playing Scrabble, about Jungian archetypes and the collective unconscious, alongside Buddhism. I was not quite sure at that time how to make sense of it all, but with consistent study and curiosity, I began to internalize parts of the psycho-spiritual aspects of Jung’s teachings. I took up interest in the enneagram and the Myers-Briggs and studies them extensively. And I attribute this early interest in Jung and his teachings solely to the influence of my uncle. This parlayed itself into my now life-long journey of studying, teaching, writing and incorporating Jung’s archetypal psychology into clinical practice with children. It was in my very early youth that my love affair with analytical psychology took shape and form. I am still attracted to Jung’s writings and the modern revisions from the post-Jungians due to the emphasis on the soul and the “soul making” that occurs through personality transformation described within Jungian psychoanalysis and the transference.
While I was completing my doctoral work in the mid 2000’s at the University of New Orleans, I was employed as an elementary school counselor. Having studied Jung in my graduate school curriculum, and attending educational workshops in archetypal psychology from various U.S. Jungian Institutes (they are typically found in many major cities), I created a “Color Your Mandala” self-awareness curriculum at the elementary school where I was employed. We conducted classroom guidance lessons and from within that developmentally-sensitive paradigm, asked children to create their mandalas (or “magic circles”). The following is a response from a 5 year-old female, “Doing the mandalas helped me understand my mother better, and now I don’t want to fight with her as much.” I also used sandplay when working with children in individual sessions at my elementary school, and they found it fun, relaxing, and helpful to clear their minds and work out different scenarios to difficult problems within their sand pictures.
2.) What differentiates Jungian Play Therapy from other theoretical play therapy approaches?
Children’s psyches have access to art, play, and expressive media made available to facilitate an inter-subjective process for symbol depiction within the transference (i.e., coloring mandalas, sandplay, dreamwork, creating fairy tales). Dreams are honored and children are encouraged by the analyst to bring their dreams to the consulting room where they may be depicted in a dream journal or through sand pictures. No resolutions are sought nor does the analyst attempt to change a child’s bad dream or nightmare. The symbols are produced and the analyst trusts the psyche will facilitate the curative path toward personality transformation by going inward. Children’s psyches will take them where they need to go for healing, even if it’s in the most remote and darkest of places in the recesses of their tormented or traumatized souls. We stand with children as temporary guides (or mythical fairies) on their soul work of ‘becoming,’ then ultimately “being.” We support children as they catalyze on the power of psychic healing from connecting the archetypal and transcultural to the profanely personal. Mythopoetic language and fairy tales may provide a psychological landscape for the self-healing archetype to emerge as we actively yet symbolically communicate to children through the myths of bliss out of which they are living. From the analytical psychology perspective, psychic healing following trauma derives primarily from the numinous, inter-subjective therapeutic alliance where the child internalizes resiliency and externalizes shadowy, disaffected parts of the Self. We, as wounded healers, don’t heal children. We merely provide the temenos (or free and sheltered space) for self-healing to activate.
Jungian play’s micro-counseling skill sets are derived from the tenets of child-centered play therapy (CCPT) as espoused by Dr. Gary Landreth. We use variations of CCPT’s micro skills, such as facilitating self-esteem/setting limits/decision making/empathic responses. Where Jungian play and CCPT differ is the analytical attitude held by the therapist, which honors the symbolic and internal processes activated within the transference. The analytic attitude is the capacity of the analyst, and ultimately internalized by the child patient, to make sense of symbols through personal associations and development by working in the transference. This is what ultimately leads to the aim of Jungian play therapy- transformation by engagement with the symbols in the warm and non-judgmental therapeutic alliance. Also, we utilize interpretation, an advanced reflection of feeling with meaning, essentially. This initially appears jarring to some non-directive purists, but the interpretations are never provided to the child directly regarding their art or symbols productions. Rather, interpretations comprise the therapist giving a voice to the child’s connection between the external and internal within the transference that may not be available directly to the child’s conscious state. Interpretation, therefore, if done sparingly and only after trust and security are in place within the therapeutic dyad, serves as a catalytic tool to advance the child through their process of wounding or alchemical “nigredo” (soul blackening) before coming out on the other side, the numinosity afforded by self-healing.
Another distinctive element of Jungian play is Dora Kalff’s concept of the free and sheltered space: it’s absolutely seminal to understand the quiet and sacred holding environment that the therapist gently creates so that the child feels safe and steady in his or her journey into the dissent and eventual assent. Sandplay therapy is distinctive to the Jungian perspective. Sandplay therapy, in slight contrast to sand tray therapy used perhaps commonly by play therapists, is a qualitatively different process. Sandplay requires a lengthy period of personal analysis ascribed by Dora Kalff, and specific certification through the Sandplay Therapists of America to demonstrate proper training and experience through case studies and symbol education. Sandplay is not used to resolve problems or create new solutions, but is a purely non-directive intervention that involves little to no verbal processing at all between therapist and child. A final minor difference would be that Jungians view children’s play, and the metaphors and themes of their play, within archetypal and trans-cultural lens, not simply reductionistic or thematic. So play, per session and overtime, is viewed for themes akin to fairy tales, archetypes, and examples in literature of commonly occurring human experiences that can help make sense of where the child is in their own personal cosmology. From this standpoint, with an awareness, however unconscious, of the myth out of which they are living, children are then afforded opportunities to engage with the psychodrama, the underworld, and eventually ascend to transformation (alchemical or psychological gold).
3.) What about this model would appeal to play therapists and patrons of the Self Esteem-Shop?
There’s a lot of common-sense, practical implications from the depth psychology approach that can be applied to children, especially focusing on building the therapeutic relationship and the transference. This model provides clinicians with insights into engagement with children with the symbols of self-healing, including activities that are multi-cultural in nature due to the transpersonal process of symbol work, including coloring mandalas, facilitating fairy tales, creating sandplay pictures, drawing dreams, etc. I encourage Self Esteem Shop patrons who are interested in this approach to consider to make learning about depth psychology part of your life-long educational journey. You may want to (a) seek out professional conferences and workshops that focus on analytical designs and/or play therapy/sandplay with children, (b) locate the latest books and journal articles written on psychodynamic approaches and play therapy with children,(c) engage in personal counseling to work on awareness/integration of your shadow(s) and projections, (d) participate in a regular supervision group with other clinicians using play therapy and/or analytical approaches when working with children, and (e) eventually participate in more formalized, in-depth training from a Jungian framework, including becoming a credentialed sandplay therapist by the Sandplay Therapists of America (STA).
4.) What sets your most recent book Counseling Families apart from other books in the field?
The book is focused on humanistic approaches to counseling families with very young children using either updated or brand new interventions that have an evidence-base. The book also includes, in many cases for the first time, the originators of some of the essential play therapy theories who’ve applied their work specifically with children in written form for this project- so we were absolutely thrilled and honored by this generous gesture. For example, Mary Anne Pare, the partner of Jungian analyst Dr. John Allan, contributed a chapter on integrating family systems work with Jungian play therapy. This is, to our knowledge, perhaps the first time this subject matter has been published in the 20+ years since she designed it. Finally, the book owes its soul to Eliana Gil, who created family play therapy and wrote about it in her seminal book many years back, as well as Charles Schaefer and Lois Carey. So while I’m not comparing our volume to these brilliant editions that paved the way for us all many years back, I would say that it’s been an honor to contribute this volume, however small or insignificant it’s ultimate impact may or may not be, as a research-informed guide, yet written clearly and practically for clinicians to incorporate interventions into their family treatment. Finally, our book is slightly tweaked to focus on family counseling and the role of counselors using play AND expressive art interventions ethically and competently as set forth by the American Counseling Association.
5.) Who or what are some of the greatest influences on your work? What impact have they had on your writing?
My Jungian psychoanalytic work with children, as well as research and scholarly contributions in play therapy, are significantly influenced by Anna Freud, Melanie Kline, Carl Jung, Michael Fordham, Thomas Moore, Joseph Campbell, James Hillman, Jean Houston, Donald Kalsched, Margaret Lowenfeld, Jean Houston, Dora Kalff, Edward Edinger, Louise Guerney, Charles Schaefer, Maria-Louise von Franz, Heinz Kohut, D. W. Winnicott, Gary Landreth, Eliana Gil, and especially, John Allan. They’ve impacted my writing by inspiring and guiding me, however indirectly and tacitly, to combine two of my favorites to help children and families in need: a Jungian approach with play. The original Jungian play therapy clinical model that I created, which was heavily inspired by John Allan’s seminal work in the 80’s with children in schools, reflects some of the classic-Jungian school of thought, as well as integrating post-Jungian thinking, such as archetypal psychology, as espoused through Michael Fordham and Maria Soldi and modernized by John Allan.
6.) You’ve been in several videos; you’ve written and edited several books. Do you have a favorite? Why/why not?
Though I spend an inordinate amount of time in my writing as it’s a distinct passion and pleasure, but I often find it painfully difficult to read my published work or see the movies I’ve been a part of. Like many of us who do this kind of work, I invariably find so many different ways I wished I had expressed points or items I could have included to bolster the project. So I typically don’t read my own work after it comes out, and I certainly don’t have a favorite. In fact, at this point I’ve published 100+ professional works. And I’ve only read 3. And I thought they were somewhat OK, so that means I didn’t cringe throughout. One of those is “The Handbook of Jungian Play Therapy.” John Allan’s Forward to that book was so touching and thorough that it brought tears of joy and disbelief upon my initial reading of it. What a generous and kind man he is. I was also honored that Louise Guerney, who is retired, graciously agreed to write the Forward to “Counseling Families,” something that she doesn’t typically do. And she knocked it out of the park. She’s one of the kindest and smartest women I have ever met in this field. But if I had to choose a favorite play therapy book, it would certainly not be one of mine, but either Eliana Gil’s “Helping Abused and Traumatized Children,” David Crenshaw’s “Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy,” or “Sandplay” by Harriet Friedman and Rie Rogers Mitchell. I also LOVE anything by John O’Donohue, the late Irish poet and spiritual author. “Eternal Echoes” is incredibly eloquent.
7.) In all of your years of working with children, what is the one lesson, Jungian-based or not, you’d like readers to take away?
Children don’t necessarily remember the interventions or elegant interpretations. They often do, however, remember the kindness we show them.
8.) Do you have anything coming up or future products that you would like to mention here?
I am working on my next single authored book, “Soulplay,” which comprises a new approach I’ve created and am excited to share. It will be written as a trade book, and not an academic text, for a wider audience and distribution. We’re excited about this project, and it should be out, and in bookstores, sometime in summer or fall 2017. I’ve also begun writing a new book on Jungian sandplay therapy with young children, which will include several chapters of case studies of my clinical work with sand pictures (!) and that should be coming out sometime in 2018. The tentative title is “Jungian Sandplay Therapy with Children: Analytic Perturbations and Alchemical Transformations in Healing.”
I have 2 new DVD’s that were released this month (January 2016) by Alexander Street Press: one is on integrating play therapy in school counseling program plans, and the other is on treating families with young children using play and consultation from a humanistic perspective. For ore information, visit ASP’s Website. I have 4 research manuscripts that are currently finalizing or they are near the end of the editorial process for various academic/peer-reviewed journals. One of these is a study I’m doing on sandplay with children affected by psychosis, and another we are examining play therapist’s attitudes when working with gender-variant and/or gender non-conforming youth. I also have keynote events and trainings booked throughout this year, as well as a couple new and exotic international locations I’ve been recently asked to speak at in 2017 on sandplay. I continue to try to waive the Jungian banner high and wide, while I still have the energy and stamina. And with John Allan’s blessing, it makes it meaningful.