Therapists, Counsellors and Psychologists know that effective interactions with children and adolescents can only occur when they are relaxed and comfortable. That’s difficult to achieve until you have built a relationship with them. They are likely nervous, embarrassed, shy or afraid of the consequences of talking about problems. In some cases they may not have the vocabulary to explain, or are unable to trust strange adults, or feel they are being punished for bad behaviour.
Kids love games, partly because games are an evolutionary mechanism that facilitates learning and growth; we are hardwired to want to play. Monica Carpendale, an Art Therapist and founder of the Kutenai Art Therapy Institute (KATI), designed the Auxilium Horizons games during sessions with her clients in the 1980s and 1990s to facilitate communication through Art and Play.
Having games as an ice-breaker in your sessions is an aid to efficient and effective therapy; we’ve improved on the rigid nature of the printed board game to allow the games to be used as customizable Tools, where the professional can edit the emotions and feelings used in the game so as to ‘stack the deck’ in favour of the particular issues that are appropriate for each clients age and presentations.
We call the Suite of games ‘Tools’, because they can help you structure (or perhaps un-structure!) your counselling and therapy sessions very specifically to the needs of the child or adolescent. The tools are designed with therapy and customization in mind, rather than simple enjoyment; they truly are therapeutic tools.
In this respect our games are also a great aid for teaching the subjects of Therapy and Counselling. The direct nature of the game communication attribute means it’s easy to see how the process of therapy and counselling ‘plays out’ along with the game; it’s a small, very natural abstraction.
The tools are useful tools in teaching creative thinking and creative approaches to healthy social interaction.
The tools are very useful for developing language skills, creative expression, emotional vocabulary and moral concepts.
Personal and social awareness are brought into focus and self-esteem is enhanced in an atmosphere of fun and safety.
The tools provide an opportunity to share emotions, ideas and stories in a safe playful atmosphere. They provide an excellent starting place for discussions.
The games are very effective both for reducing anxiety, “ice-breaking,” and developing rapport and trust in sharing feelings and experiences. The familiarity of playing a game functions positively in building a therapeutic relationship.
The tools provide the opportunity for the therapist, counsellor or parent to model listening skills and appropriate expression of feelings and ideas. They also give the opportunity to model respect and acceptance of another person's point of view.
All feelings and experiences are to be accepted as expressed. There are no “wrong” answers. It is more important to encourage a child to speak and offer their experiences and feelings than to worry or correct their use of language.
No “put-downs”, shock, or critical response. If for example, when a child lands on the “mean” square and they actually tell about a really mean thing that they did. They should be acknowledged for their courage in sharing this kind of behaviour.
The structure of the game, and exchange of turns and movement through a whole spectrum of feelings, prevents an intense focus on a problem, feeling or situation, but allows for the problems a child feels and experiences to be expressed within a rainbow of other feelings and positive experiences.
In the Hopscotch and Play it safe games, situations are presented on the cards for which the player must identify the feeling and offer possible solutions. All solutions are to be accepted without criticism. In fact, the therapist has an opportunity to model acceptance of feeling like perhaps being violent or aggressive in response and self-reflect on more positive solutions, or even express the difficulties of a situation and not knowing how to respond and asking the child for suggestions. The goal here is to learn to brainstorm different responses to problems and to respect and believe in the child’s ability to develop more and more healthy and appropriate responses in their life by becoming more creative and able to see the possibility of alternative responses.
The natural limits of game structure and how rules are applied or adapted by children offers a safe place to explore issues of power and control and help a child to decide on the limitations they will play by.
More about the Objectives of the games
The structure of the games and exchange of turns, and movement through a whole spectrum of feelings prevents an intense focus on a problem, feeling or situation, but allows for the problems a child feels and experiences to be expressed within a rainbow of other feelings and positive experiences. All feelings and experiences are to be accepted as expressed.
There are no “wrong” answers. It is also important that there be no negative or critical response. If for example, when a child lands on the “mean” square and they tell about a really mean thing that they did; they should be acknowledged for their courage in sharing.
The games fall under several different categories: feeling games, anger games, social issues, values and beliefs, and self-esteem. Some of the general objectives for the games are:
· To increase self-awareness and the ability to identify emotions.
· To enhance self-esteem
· To provide opportunities for personal story telling and sharing life
· To provide an opportunity for storytelling with both positive and negative experiences.
· To practice creative problem-solving
· To develop and enhance communication and social skills
· To develop empathy and support the development of emotional resilience
The games evolved from artwork created in session with challenged children, the exploration of feelings became a journey travelled through play. Monica quickly realized the value this direct, yet fun, form of therapy offered. It was immediately attractive to children and thus facilitated effective communication with them. She went on to design a suite of games dealing with a number of commonly recurring themes: Feelings, Self-esteem, Anger management, Situational strategy and Morals and Values.
The physical board games are familiar and comforting to children, they recognize and enjoy the structure and the opportunities for mutual enjoyment. The tactile nature of rolling dice and advancing avatars are beneficial in itself with certain conditions. Our boards are made of highly durable materials so they can withstand spills, and a little wear and tear.
Most games made nowadays are done digitally; the computer can made to create any universe you can conceive and this provides a wide scope of enjoyment potential. But it is becoming quite clear that most humans spend too much time in front of digital equipment. In and of itself, this is fast becoming an issue that is requiring addressing by mental health professionals. We know, however, that prohibition is not the answer; we need to use technology in positive ways.
We call it ‘Digital Detox’, some kids ‘think’ on tablets and technology; so, our games are a great way to open communications with these clients. From the digital versions, you can begin to move to physical board games; importantly, all the time spent is of therapeutic value. The games are engaging and have appealing graphic animations, the game boards are all faithfully reproduced from their original artwork.
Digital affords a huge number of practical advantages thanks to modern device portability and widespread Internet access. We’ve built in game customization, associate accounts and the ability to ‘send’ games via email and we are developing features to support remote, multi-device sessions, language crowdsourcing and, of course, more games.
A subscription to our service gives you access to all the games, including those we develop in the future, for a single monthly or yearly fee. You can also buy pairs of games as Issue-based Apps covering the topics of Self-Esteem, Understanding Feelings, Anger Management. If you want to send customized games to clients to play on their devices, a subscription is what you need.