Dr. Laurie Zelinger, psychologist and author, is here to join us for this edition of Meet the Author.

I first met Dr. Laurie Zelinger several years ago at the New York Association for Play Therapy annual conference. Self Esteem Shop was exhibiting at the time and Dr. Zelinger approached us looking for specific puppets that would be the perfect fit for the children at the school where she worked. This level of passion stuck with me and became even more evident when I later received her book Please Explain Anxiety to Me from her publisher Victor Volkman at Loving Healing Press, which quickly became a personal favorite. It wasn’t long before our play therapy conference paths crossed again, where we began to converse and have since become better acquainted.

The story and coping skills offered in each of her books are engaging and reassuring for both parents and children, plus her contribution to other works like those on selective mutism in School Based Play Therapy, 2nd Edition are invaluable. She is the real deal.

-Deanne Ginns-Gruenberg

Laurie Zelinger Q & A

What inspired you to become a child psychologist and registered play therapist/supervisor?

That one is easy. In second grade I had a horrendous teacher who ridiculed and embarrassed me in front of the whole class. (Later I learned that she made a victim of one student every year). On the second day of school, she asked me to say what day of the week it was. I said, “Tuesday”. She insisted that it was not. I floundered, asked a friend for confirmation and replied, “Tuesday” again. She informed me that it was not in fact “Toosday”, but rather “T’ Yews Day”.

From there on in it went downhill. I became a school avoidant 7-year-old who was plagued by fears and nightmares.

Finally, the school advised my parents to take me to a child psychologist. I went to this very lovely man twice, where I played, talked into a tape recorder, drew pictures and had a great time. That was my life changing moment. This guy must have been pretty good, because whatever he told the school seemed to have been spot on advice. The teacher remained a *****, but the assistant principal checked on me a lot, let me visit her, did some of the class work with me, and let me take breaks. I loved her. It was then that I decided that I wanted to be one of those adults who make kids feel valued and safe.

While my first love was probably the hopes of becoming a nurse, I fainted every time I stepped into a hospital lobby. Then for years, another flame burned for acting, but my college drama teacher told me that since I couldn’t juggle three balls ten times, I didn’t have the concentration ability to become an actress. By default, I went into psychology… and I couldn’t be happier.

You recently revised “Please Explain Anxiety to Me”. What motivated you to make changes?
One of the earliest professional challenges I undertook was being a group leader for a group for adults abused as children in San Francisco. This was an eye-opening experience, in particular, because of the amazing resiliency that I found among adult women who had suffered physical and sexual abuse and neglect, at the hands of their parents. They turned to each other with remarkable trust and shared their stories and the many ways abuse had affected their relationships, their ability to trust, and the choices they had made in their lives (often feeling undeserving of positive attention or positive outcomes).

I found myself repeating the same messages, quickly learning that people needed to hear things over and over and it took time to integrate new ideas about how their coping strategies had been designed to keep them safe when there was danger, and were not needed any more. I wanted to offer the group members something more concrete, a way they could remind themselves about the ideas they were learning, and I wrote Outgrowing the Pain.

For many reasons, putting that first little book together was something I could not have imagined. Decades later, I still get letters from survivors of childhood abuse, who find its message relevant and more importantly, causes them to reflect and gain insights that help move them forward. I don’t think any other book has been so rewarding as this one, written in the context of trying to be of service to women who had suffered deep injuries, in order to validate their experiences and help them take small steps forward.

I love the metaphor using dinosaurs to describe the “fight, flight, freeze” response to anxiety in your book Please Explain Anxiety to Me. Is there any story behind selecting a dinosaur?
No, actually. I think I probably just had some dinosaurs handy in my office, and they loaned themselves well to scary roars when I imbued them with life. They also helped explain why some survival responses originated so very long ago.

In going through my own psychotherapy, I had the privilege of spending time with Alexander Lowen, the founder of Bioenergetics. This was in the beginning days of all the focus we now have on using the body as a resource. He spent the day with our group and did an evaluation (a body scan) of each one of us. He indicated what he felt was the source of our issues and then prescribed specific body activities for our treatment. At that point in time I was pretty much talked out and was not making a great deal of progress. With the help of my therapist we started those body activities. It was amazing as I was able to release so much that I could not put in words. From that point on I felt that involving the body in some kind of healing process was critical to recovery and growth. Today regulation (resourcing the body) is viewed to be essential to trauma recovery.

The final experience was as a young teen when I was given a camera. I took hundreds of pictures. When I would sit down to look at these, I was amazed by the elements in those pictures that I didn’t actually see when I was looking through the camera lens. Fixed in time, they gave me time to really explore all the elements of those pictures, to discover details of that moment I was not aware I had captured, to look at that moment differently than when I first experienced it. I think that really drew me into developing my evidence-based drawing process. If people are interested in learning more about it they can read the chapter that that I was privileged to be able to write in the new publication by David Crenshaw and Anne Stewart, “Play Therapy: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice”. Its an excellent resource for all levels of practitioners.

When should caregivers seek professional guidance for anxious children?
The thing about anxiety is if you give it an inch, it takes a yard. When anxiety is a response to an identifiable stressor, you can often modify something which will relieve the anxiety to some extent. However, when anxiety is chronic and free floating and interferes with functioning (i.e. sleep, eating, school, friendships) then professional support is usually needed.

In going through my own psychotherapy, I had the privilege of spending time with Alexander Lowen, the founder of Bioenergetics. This was in the beginning days of all the focus we now have on using the body as a resource. He spent the day with our group and did an evaluation (a body scan) of each one of us. He indicated what he felt was the source of our issues and then prescribed specific body activities for our treatment. At that point in time I was pretty much talked out and was not making a great deal of progress. With the help of my therapist we started those body activities. It was amazing as I was able to release so much that I could not put in words. From that point on I felt that involving the body in some kind of healing process was critical to recovery and growth. Today regulation (resourcing the body) is viewed to be essential to trauma recovery.

The final experience was as a young teen when I was given a camera. I took hundreds of pictures. When I would sit down to look at these, I was amazed by the elements in those pictures that I didn’t actually see when I was looking through the camera lens. Fixed in time, they gave me time to really explore all the elements of those pictures, to discover details of that moment I was not aware I had captured, to look at that moment differently than when I first experienced it. I think that really drew me into developing my evidence-based drawing process. If people are interested in learning more about it they can read the chapter that that I was privileged to be able to write in the new publication by David Crenshaw and Anne Stewart, “Play Therapy: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice”. Its an excellent resource for all levels of practitioners.

Your most recent book is A Smart Girl’s Guide to Liking Herself, even on the bad days. What age group do you recommend read this book? What do you hope girls will take away from reading this book?

Coming up with the title, particularly the phrase, “even on the bad days” is my summary of the pre-teen years. There are so many cliques and “clubs” that girls form, that leave the included feeling popular and the excluded or neglected kids feeling like outcasts and failures.

Developmentally, these years are when children begin to move away from parents and begin to affiliate with peers. This process of shifting is a critical one where children want to feel accepted and do whatever they can to fit in. They are always assessing themselves and each other and forming harsh judgments moment to moment. My goal was for each reader to feel okay in her own skin and to appreciate herself, even when things don’t go the way she hoped. It is my hope that each girl can get past her doubts, recognize her self-worth and know that bad days don’t last forever- things will improve.

However, although history does repeat itself, we tend to ignore many of the lessons learned from the past. For example, Anthony Salvatori, then Assistant Principal of Sandy Hook Middle School was also the Coordinator of the district’s Safe School Climate program. He was responsible for preparing staff for tragedies including the violent loss of life. Again unfortunately, all too often he heard “Why are you telling us this? This is not going to happen here.” This was just prior to that tragic loss of lives. We tend to ignore the past by refusing to accept our vulnerability. By the way, the first intentional mass killing of young children took place in 1927 at Michigan Bath Consolidated School. The planted bomb killed 38 elementary schools students, six adults and seriously injured another 58 children and staff. Hopefully the stories of survivors in this work will help to discourage the “It won’t happen here” response to those attempting to provide the best preparation possible.

I also wrote this for the courageous professionals who agree to serve on their crisis teams, trauma response or critical response teams. They are all eager to be as prepared as possible, to engage in best practices to help minimize the many challenges of the recovery process. In many ways the book helps responders and teams evaluate just how prepared they are to respond to the many different experiences and reactions of survivors and their communities. The bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma produce one set of lessons, Columbine another, 9/11 still another and years later Sandy Hook Elementary still yet another set of lessons. There really is no reason not to be prepared. The lessons are there for us. No one text can answer every question or concern. However, I’ve been privileged to train and learn from hundreds of teams across the country, which allows me to bring best practices to today’s teams. For this reason I continue to provide training and can be contacted at 810-241-0391 or drbillsteele12@gmail.com.

In going through my own psychotherapy, I had the privilege of spending time with Alexander Lowen, the founder of Bioenergetics. This was in the beginning days of all the focus we now have on using the body as a resource. He spent the day with our group and did an evaluation (a body scan) of each one of us. He indicated what he felt was the source of our issues and then prescribed specific body activities for our treatment. At that point in time I was pretty much talked out and was not making a great deal of progress. With the help of my therapist we started those body activities. It was amazing as I was able to release so much that I could not put in words. From that point on I felt that involving the body in some kind of healing process was critical to recovery and growth. Today regulation (resourcing the body) is viewed to be essential to trauma recovery.

The final experience was as a young teen when I was given a camera. I took hundreds of pictures. When I would sit down to look at these, I was amazed by the elements in those pictures that I didn’t actually see when I was looking through the camera lens. Fixed in time, they gave me time to really explore all the elements of those pictures, to discover details of that moment I was not aware I had captured, to look at that moment differently than when I first experienced it. I think that really drew me into developing my evidence-based drawing process. If people are interested in learning more about it they can read the chapter that that I was privileged to be able to write in the new publication by David Crenshaw and Anne Stewart, “Play Therapy: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice”. Its an excellent resource for all levels of practitioners.

Is there a connection between the books you’ve written?
Yep, three of them arose from my experience. My first book was The “O MY” in TonsillectOMY and AdenoidectOMY; How to Prepare Your Child for Surgery which was a compilation of my notes when Jordan went underwent his surgery at age 6. I revised that recently when readers asked me to include information about complications, allowing me to consult with surgeons again in order to update some of the other medical information as well.

Please Explain Anxiety was born from my personal experience as an anxious child, and as an adult, my ability to help children deal with theirs. The chapter I wrote about selective mutism in School Based Play Therapy, 2nd edition came from family experience and tons of research.

The one book that didn’t originate with me was the American Girl book. They approached me to write it, but when I was a pre-teen, I certainly had my share of days when I felt like I was outside looking in.

Tell us a little bit about your family. Your son is co-author of Please Explain Anxiety to Me. What is it like to author a book with a family member? Is he in the mental health field as well?
Ah, Jordan. He was in college when we began this project and syncing our priorities and circadian rhythms was no easy feat. I particularly remember a plane ride when he was captive in his window seat, and we got a lot of writing done. But that was many years ago. He has since graduated with his doctorate in psychology and is following in our footsteps, as my husband too, is a psychologist. Fred and I met at a psychology conference in 1978 and happily, we’re still going strong. Jordan is currently working in a neuropsychological testing practice in Manhattan, and will be starting his first job as a school psychologist in a Long Island public high school this September. Since we have different areas of expertise, we were usually able to blend our ideas. But when we differed, it was so tempting for me to pull rank and say, “Because I’m the mother… and I said so. That’s why!” (wink).

Since you asked, here’s a little about the rest of my family… Our oldest son is in finance, the next one in real estate, and the “baby” is in medical school. I live vicariously through him and can now even listen to his stories and still remain upright (LOL). My father was featured in the Huffington Post last month in an interview about significant memories of the older generation. He is nearly 98, and as he likes to say, “Has all his marbles.” His favorite activity is dancing with the women at his Assisted Living residence. Lastly, I have one brother. He is a craftsman and makes handmade Laubin oboes.

Please Explain Anxiety was born from my personal experience as an anxious child, and as an adult, my ability to help children deal with theirs. The chapter I wrote about selective mutism in School Based Play Therapy, 2nd edition came from family experience and tons of research.

The one book that didn’t originate with me was the American Girl book. They approached me to write it, but when I was a pre-teen, I certainly had my share of days when I felt like I was outside looking in.

In going through my own psychotherapy, I had the privilege of spending time with Alexander Lowen, the founder of Bioenergetics. This was in the beginning days of all the focus we now have on using the body as a resource. He spent the day with our group and did an evaluation (a body scan) of each one of us. He indicated what he felt was the source of our issues and then prescribed specific body activities for our treatment. At that point in time I was pretty much talked out and was not making a great deal of progress. With the help of my therapist we started those body activities. It was amazing as I was able to release so much that I could not put in words. From that point on I felt that involving the body in some kind of healing process was critical to recovery and growth. Today regulation (resourcing the body) is viewed to be essential to trauma recovery.

The final experience was as a young teen when I was given a camera. I took hundreds of pictures. When I would sit down to look at these, I was amazed by the elements in those pictures that I didn’t actually see when I was looking through the camera lens. Fixed in time, they gave me time to really explore all the elements of those pictures, to discover details of that moment I was not aware I had captured, to look at that moment differently than when I first experienced it. I think that really drew me into developing my evidence-based drawing process. If people are interested in learning more about it they can read the chapter that that I was privileged to be able to write in the new publication by David Crenshaw and Anne Stewart, “Play Therapy: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice”. Its an excellent resource for all levels of practitioners.

Are there any particular books on anxiety and self-esteem that you recommend for parents and professionals?
I like Dawn Huebner’s series and am always recommending What to Do When You Dread Your Bed to my clients. It’s practical and engaging.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today Dr. Zelinger, we look forward to your future work.

Thank you, Harry and Deanne for this opportunity. You’ve helped me to warm up my keyboard for my next book in the Please Explain series. Again, it will be published by Loving Healing Press.


You can find books by Laurie Zelinger here at the Self Esteem Shop.

Her own website can be found at http://www.drzelinger.com/