As a therapist working with children and adolescents, it is essential that I have hands-on materials to support my young clients in exploring therapeutic concepts and engaging in conversation. Card sets can be one such hands-on resource and can provide a physical and visual prop to scaffold therapeutic conversations. They can also take the pressure off the conversation and reduce its intensity, by giving the young person something to do with their hands and their eyes as they choose and hold the cards and by providing a normalising context. Card sets have the further benefit of providing many ideas and examples for the young person to choose from, reducing their need to generate the ideas and also reducing the need for me as a therapist to suggest ideas. Instead, the cards can make the suggestions, and the client can be empowered to choose which cards best suit him/her.
When I heard that Dr Karen Treisman was publishing a card set focusing on grounding, soothing, coping and regulating strategies, I was quick to order them, as I had found her recent book very helpful in working with children and adolescents with developmental trauma and I liked her creative approach (Treisman, 2017a). Dr Treisman has also previously published the card set ‘A Therapeutic Treasure Deck of Feelings and Sentence Completion Cards’, another great resource (Treisman, 2017b). I was not disappointed – these new cards are great and have become one of my favourite sets. There are 70 cards in the pack, each depicting a different strategy, with lovely and clear pictures. They are simple enough that children can understand them, but the design is not childish, so they can appeal to adolescents and parents too. What I love most about this card set is the huge variety and broad range of the strategies that are included. There are strategies to calm the body as well as the mind, strategies that are active or physical, creative, cognitive, imaginative, sensory, activity-based, and mindfulness-based. Some cards have a number of examples on them to allow clients to personalise the strategy further. Everyone I have used them with has been able to find at least a couple of strategies that they find appealing and would consider trying.
A simple way to use the cards is to spread some or all of them out across the floor and allow the child or adolescent to choose cards that seem interesting to talk about or that they might like to try out for themselves. I find when young people choose strategies for themselves, they are more likely to try them, than if I suggest some strategies. It gives them more control in the conversation, as they can guide the suggestions, and helps me to be collaborative in the process rather than be perceived as expert. Once they have chosen cards, it is helpful to explore and expand on the strategies, and many of the cards have ideas for this outlined in the booklet they come with. Certainly it’s important to try the ideas in session, and to find a way to send them home, whether that is simply lending the child the cards, taking a photo or making a booklet with photocopies. The cards could be used to generate ideas for the child’s physical calm box, where we place tangible, hands-on objects that the child can use for calming or regulating their emotions, such as bubbles for breathing or sensory toys. The ideas could be incorporated into a drawing representing their strategies, or represented visually in a ‘bag of tricks’ or on a paper ‘chill out fan’. The booklet contains many different ideas for creative reminders of the chosen strategies, as well as different ways the cards can be introduced and used in therapy.
This small box contains so many ideas – it certainly deserves its name of a therapeutic treasure deck! I’m sure it will continue to be useful for me in supporting the children and adolescents I work with as well as their parents, to acknowledge their existing ideas and to further widen their repertoire of coping and grounding strategies.
Treisman, K. (2018). A Therapeutic Treasure Deck of Grounding, Soothing, Coping and Regulating Cards. Jessica Kingsley Publishers: UK.
Treisman, K. (2017a). A Therapeutic Treasure Box for Working with Children and Adolescents with Developmental Trauma. Creative Techniques and Activities. Jessica Kingsley Publishers: UK.
Treisman, K. (2017b). A Therapeutic Treasure Deck of Feelings and Sentence Completion Cards. Jessica Kingsley Publishers: UK.