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Clearing A Space With Drawing in Play Therapy

Nanae Yuba and Shoji Murayama

The Folio, Volume 7, number 1, 1988

Faculty of Education Kyushu University

When a child is involved in same problems and can't pay attention to himself, play therapy tends to be unsettled and without a meaningful sense of the world. In such cases, I make a trial of Clearing a Space with Drawing in play therapy. In this method, the client represents the feeling about his problem (the 'problem-feeling'), and his feeling about himself without the 'problem-feeling' (the 'sense of myself').

This method aims for the client to experience the sense of himself that is not involved in the problems. The client gets a felt sense of his problem. However, he is asked to put aside the sense of the problem rather than search for it, so that he can experience the sense of himself without the problem-feeling. The process of getting the 'sense of myself' goes through three phases.

At the first phase, the child seems to be uneasy and have some troubles. He can't experience how he is now. He can't experience how he feels about the problem-feeling. He seems to be the problem itself.

Then, the first clue is given to him by the therapist. "How do you feel?" He begins to watch and feel about his problems little by little. This is the second phase.

By turning his attention to his problems, the "I"

that is facing problems arises. Here the relation between "I" and the "problem" is coming up. Under

this condition, he is not the problem itself anymore.

Through the process of drawing about his problem-feeling, the sense of himself managing his "problem-feeling" is evoked. But at this second phase, he hasn't noticed the sense of him- self yet.

After putting aside his problem-feeling, he asks himself, "I had such a feeling of the problem then; how do I feel now?" At this third phase, he can notice that he feels not the problem but himself.

That is to say, he is not involved in nor disturbed by the problem-feeling. He gets the sense of himself.

He feels a release physically as well as mentally. He seems to have the feeling of "I am what I am."

With this method, children can pay attention to their experiences and get their whole lively sense of themselves, so that the therapy flows more smoothly.

In this paper, I'11 show this method and a case illustration.


This method requires some pieces of drawing paper and crayons. A play room may be suitable for preparing them; also it should have enough space for the client and the therapist to move comfortably doing this method.

The instructions are as follows:

A. Introduction - Attend to the present feeling-

"How do you feel now?"

"Can you express it on the paper?"

B. Let the problem come into your mind-

"Are there any troubles or problems these days?"

"Ask yourself this gently, and if there are, please pick one of them."

C. Attend to the feeling of the problem-

"When you think about it, how does your stomach or chest feel?"

"Can you express it on the paper?"

D. Put the feeling of the problems' aside-

(a) "Can you look at the feeling of the problem at a distance?"

(b) “If you feel difficulty in ma king a distance, how about packing the feeling in a suitable container?”

Can you be sure the feeling is packed?”

“Can you express about it on the paper?”

E. Attend to the present feeling-

"How do you feel now?"

If some prob1ems come into mind again, then you get back to C and repeat the same procedure.

If there is not any “problem” or “feeling of problems”, a certain new feeling of himself wi11 be felt. The clients are asked to feel this new sense sufficiently and to express it.


The client, a twelve-year old girl, come to the clinic because she had been teased. She had been teased by boys since she was in the third grade. She used to go to school reluctantly, she walked very slowly, her school record was bad, and she had almost no friends.

She lived with her mother and an older brother. Her mother had been overworked since her divorce, which was when the client was in fifth grade. The chi1d's father was drunk and acted violently. So her home was not stable.

The expression of the girl when I met her at the first session was completely shrunken from overstrain. Her clumsy walking, timid eyes, and unclear talking showed it.

At the sessions 2, 3, and 4, the girl began to bring presents for me. Gradually she tried to come closer, but it was something like beating the air. She kept chattering restlessly and could not calm down.

Through sessions 1 to 5, although the relationship between the girl and myself was getting closer little by little, she could not keep calm, and her playing and talking were emotionally superficial. I thought it was necessary to "put” something down which was moving about in her and annoyed her, in order that she could be calm and feel herself. So when the girl drew something unexpectedly, I took advantage of this. I carried on this method at sessions 6 and 7.

Session 6

In the playroom, the girl and I, chatted while strolling and fingering toys. The girl kept on chattering in a monotone about cats, Fuch who was her only friend, and her classroom teacher, all mixed up.

Her eyes were not fixed on anything and darted about restlessly. I was looking for a chance to settle. I could do nothing but chime in with the girl.

“Do you want to draw something?” I said, when she was fingering crayons and a piece of paper. Then we

scattered many crayons and sheets of paper on the floor.

In the middle of these, we lay prostrate side by side, and did drawing a little. (Hereafter, we were lying on the f1oor.)

I thought it was a good state for focusing, so I suggested that she should clear her mind by drawing.

(CL=client, TH=therapist, D=drawing)

CL l: How can I do it?

TH 1: Well then, how do you feel now?

CL 2: Er...I feel enjoyable. (Saying flatly)

TH 2: Then, draw your feelings, won’t you?

CL 3: (Draws flowers quickly, and then 1ies down.) D-(1)

TH 3: Say, do you have any troubles or problems these days?

CL 4: (Lies on her bock and closes her eyes.)

Yes, Fuch (her only friend) always watches TV when I go to see her. Even when I speak to her, she reads comics. (She tends to talk about comics.)

TH 4: When you think about Fuch, how do you feel?

CL 5: I get angry. (She draws an angry face and a crying face.) D-(2)

TH 5: Well, when you get angry, how do your stomach and chest feel?

CL 6: Er...I feel nauseated. (She chooses a black crayon slowly and carefully. Then she colors around the faces saying "nausea” outrageously.) D- (2)

TH 6: OK, you feel nauseated. (Points to the drawing.) Then, why don't you put it into something, say a box? Do you know a good container for it? Please tell me when you find it.

CL 7: (She seems to be thinking about it, and respond a little later.) A dustbin, I wilt throw it into a dustbin.

TH 7: AII right, then put the nausea into a dustbin in your mind.

CL 8: (Eyes are closed.) OK. I put it in.

TH 8: Put it in? Then draw it.

Q 9: (She draws a dustbin with a top and puts "nausea" in it by drawing with a black crayon. She looks at it for a while and adds "You are defeated” in writing.) D-(3)

TH 9: As you have just put “nause” in, ask if there are any other feelings.

CL 10: Umm... (She stays still quite a long time lying on her back.)

TH 10: You can say anything. Please tell when something comes up.

CL 11: Say, Fuch phones me when she comes home from school.

TH 11: To you. How do you feel when she phones you?

CL 12: I feel happy. (She draws a smiling girl.) D-(4}

TH 12: So, you feel happy. What is it like?

CL 13: Let me see. (She chooses a pink crayon.) Like this (draws waves,) and I’m fluttered.

(She writes “f1uttered”.) D- (5)

TH 13: Umm, that’s it. You are fluttered. Then, let’s put it into a container carefully.

CL 14: (Eyes closed) Yea, I put it in. Like this. (She draws a box with printed flowers.) D-(6)

TH 14: Good. Well, anything else?

CL 15: (She lies down for a while, suddenly.) Oh, yes. There is. Mum says "Tidy up". It makes me mad.

(She explains those situations. TH listens to her for A while.)

TH 15 : I see. It is... when you recall that, how do you feel?

CL 16: Er... (She closes her eyes; a little later, she gets up slowly.) I become irritated. I fee1 something

like that. (Saying that, she draws lines something like earthworms with a brown crayon.) D-(7)

TH 16: (Pointing to the drawing,) You are irritated. Then, do you want to put this in, too?

CL 17: Yeah. (She lies down and doesn't get up for quite a long time.)

TH 17: Can't you find a good one to put it in? Can I help you?

CL l8: Yes, I'11 put it in a can. (She closes her eyes. And later on) Yeah. (She draws a can end puts "irritated" into it.) It's going, swallowed up by a vacuum cleaner. This is supposed to be a can of greenpeas. I don't like greenpeas. D-(8) (She lies down, but doesn't look like she feels c1ear.)

TH l8: That irritation has been surely put in, do you think?

CL 19: No, not really. It is not safe. (She closes her eyes for a whi1e, then springs up and puts the can into a p1astic bag.) D-(8) Now, it’s 0K. (She throws herse1f down on her back.)

TH 19: Is there anything else...or nothing?

CL 20: (A few minutes later,) That's all.

TH 20: So? How do you feel now?

CL 21: I feel great. (She looks bright and looks at the therapist's eyes wonderlingly.)

TH 21: You feel cleared, don't you?

CL 22: I feel something like after going to the toilet. She draws a water closet, flushing it, and the on the back of the paper, draws some lines with a blue crayon, and writes “I’m "cleared.”) D-(10)


Session 7

In the playroom, the girl and I were playing trampoline. The girl played and chattered aimlessly. Then we sat on

the trampoline and chattered. Her chat rustled and changed from one topic to another so quickly, and she was restless. It seemed that she could not stop chattering because she was so tense that it was beyond her control. When the chat ceased, she was at a loss and restless. We played trampoline hand in hand for a long time, but she became restless, when the movement stopped. We did focusing while sitting on a trampoline.

CL 23: Isn't there anything? When there's nothing to talk: about, I'm uneasy. (she shakes her body continuously on the trampoline. Her (rest1esssness is transmitted to TH.)

TH 22: Take your time. It’s OK. You can tell me , when you remember something. I don't mind waiting long.

CL 24: But I can't stand for it unless I spit out something. (She shakes the trampoline violently.)

TH 23: (TH wants to do something for her wholeheartedly.) What is it like?

CL 25: Umm... I feel that I have to say something. (She falls flat on her face on the trampoline.)

TH 24: (Lies down by the girl.) Is that a feeling of uneasiness?

CL 26: I think I shou1dn’t stop talking, you know. (TH sees the girl make a fist.)

TH 25: Do you think that is better? When you think you shouldn't stop talking, is your mind uneasy?

CL 27: (She sits still.) Yes. (Her body is rigid on the trampoline; therefore the trampoline keeps on swinging.)

TH 26: Then, how about saying "You can stop talking", to that uneasiness?

CL 28: (A few minutes later, she stops shaking the trampoline.) Yeah I feel calm. (Her body looks relaxed, and her fist is undone.)

TH 27: Really? Then watch that calm feeling for a while.

CL 28: (She lies down on her belly on the trampoline. In a few minutes, she gets up surprisingly.) I feel, "That's it.”

TH 28: Oh, you feel, "That’s it." Why don’t you draw that last feeling?

CL 29: Yeah, (At first, she draws a girl's wondering face and above it she writes, "That's so." Then he draws a quilt on the back of the paper explaining that her feeling is fluffy and warm.) D-(11), (12)


After these sessions, her uneasiness disappeared. In therapy, she began to talk about her trouble- some feeling, and was able to experience it fully.

At school, she tried to belong to the tennis club sand became able to have a good relationship with her friends. By the follow up, the therapist knew she had adapted herself to the school life well.


In the process of Focusing, the client changed in the following ways. Before using the method, she looked always nervous and had difficulty touching her feeling. She bore herself uncertainly in play therapy. She was "uneasiness" itself. Through the process of Focusing, she gradually began to attend to herself, and she could fee her feeling of her problems.

By way of this process, she turned her eyes to her inside; the nervous state calmed down. She came to concentrate her attention on herself.

After she experienced her problems and put them into containers, she suddenly came to know that she had released feeling. She felt this new refreshed feeling, wondering with lively energy. Her nervous attitude disappeared, and she showed presence of mind.

These Focusing sessions have a1so influenced the subsequent process or play therapy. After: the Focusing sessions, she began to touch her fee1ings (such as sorrow or anger) more easi1y and told them to the therapist actively. This may show that the therapy sessions began to have shared meaning, including both the client and the therapist.

Also, she changed at her school situation. She began to have relationships with schoolmates and cou1d try to express her fee1ings to them.

I think the facts mentioned above were caused by the “sense of herself." From her 1ife history, it may be thought that she had had some troubles being herself in the presence of the others . So, to experience the "sense of herself” shou1d be a wondering, great, new experience for her, and this experience encouraged her to feel and to express her feeling not only in a therapy situation but out of it. I think that the experience of the "sense of myself" may be the basis of change.

Drawing with Focusing might help this process to occur. When one pays attention to oneself, the felt sense is still vague and not formed yet, so sometimes the whole meaning of this experiencing can't be caught by a word. It seems important that one can feel the vague experiencing without hurrying conceptualization. Drawing has some form, which enables a person to manage this experiencing easi1y. Also, it is one of the nonverbal means with which one can express this feeling, thereby, keeping the meaningful vague experiencing. At the same time, this cou1d help the therapist to know and to be together with the client's world nonverbally.

I will close by mentioning a difficult case.

A thirteen year old gir1 who had a severe life history, refused to go to schoo1, and had always persecuted her dog, showed difficulty in making and feeling the “sense of myself.”

In the drawing session she tried to express her fee1ing by drawing a dead dog, but soon she showed difficulty in managing her feeling. The process stopped automatically.

This fact suggested that her condition was not stable enough to allow her to feel her problem. I thought that much time should be taken to make the condition in her. A long time was spent during which the client and the therapist contrived not to fall into the “feeling of the problem.” Based on these sessions, she began to take care of her dog and sometimes talked about herself in play therapy.

In this case, the method was useful for the therapist to know that the client had difficulty in making the "sense of herself."