I often fantasise about my ideal clinic room. As a clinical child psychologist, I’m passionate about using play and hands-on activities when working therapeutically with children and their families. My ideal clinic room is one that has a wet play area, complete with a sink and an easel, as well as a carpeted area with lots of space for floor play and enough comfortable chairs to allow for family work. I can envisage the dolls houses and bookshelf I’ll have too.
In reality though, like many therapists, I work at a number of clinics across my week. The rooms I use are shared with others and storage space is limited. Many of the other therapists I know are in a more challenging position. For example, many school psychologists travel to different schools, often working in less than ideal rooms and needing to frequently move their materials.
I use lots of playful activities to make therapeutic concepts meaningful for children. I know this approach works best with kids though this means that I need to have craft materials and toys on hand, which can be a challenge. Continuing to advocate for appropriate clinical space is essential and I have no intention of giving up my pleasant preoccupation of daydreaming about the perfect clinic room, however I’m also a realist. I recognise that for many of us having materials that we can easily pack and transport is essential. We need materials that encourage play and creativity, though can be used in the rooms we find ourselves in.
With that in mind, here is what I pack in my travelling toolkit –
Other basics are markers, crayons, pencils, scissors (one child pair and a sharper pair for me) and glue (a glue stick for paper and card and a small bottle of craft glue for fabric etc).
Some cellophane, tissue paper, foam sheets and felt are great to have in your kit for crafting. Again you don’t need lots, instead have a range of colours and replenish as needed.
Air drying clay is a wonderful medium and a small packet of it is easily transported in an air tight container. Children can use it to make a broad range of items, including figures and symbols. For example, a child may like to make a plaque with a quote they find particularly helpful.
Ice-lolly sticks take up little space and make a great puppet base. Having a mix of sizes and colours allows you the greatest flexibility and many children will also enjoy building boxes, towers, or mobiles with them.
In addition to craft materials it is essential to include some play materials. Obviously the more space you can have the more you can include. Here however are the toys I would see as the most helpful
I also like to have a set of family figures and furniture even when I can’t have a dolls house. Again having enough figures is important and I would usually include some dining room, kitchen, living room and bedroom furniture.
Commercially available therapy cards can also be useful, such as feelings or strengths cards. St Luke’s Innovative Resources have a great range, though there may be other sets that you find particularly useful depending on the population you work with, or you could make your own.
In addition to being careful about what I pack I also find that I need to be careful about how I pack up my materials. Deep boxes tend to leave me digging for resources and often the materials at the bottom get neglected and forgotten. Similarly while clear tubs are helpful for me, I am careful about where I place these, particularly with those children who tend to be impulsive and want to touch everything they see. A small suitcase often works well with the various compartments providing some sense of order. Working in such a small space also means being very organised and putting things back where they belong is essential.
I’m always adding little bits and pieces to my toolbox, depending on what I have available from home or what I see when I’m out shopping. Sometimes these bits and pieces become essentials and continue to be included and at other times I use them for a while and then replace them with something different. Having different craft materials helps me to be creative in my approach.
Talking with others about what they use is always inspiring too so chat with other therapists and share your ideas. Working out of a box or bag challenges you to bring your creativity to the fore so think carefully, pack your gear, and make the most of it.
Dr Fiona Zandt and Dr Suzanne Barrett are both Clinical Psychologists, each with over 15 years’ experience working with children and families in a range of public and private settings. Together, they facilitate training workshops for therapists working with children and authored the book, Creative Ways to Help Children Manage BIG Feelings: A Therapists’ Guide to Working with Preschool and Primary Children, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Further details can be found at the Child Psychology Workshops Website.
*Please note our articles are aimed at provided ideas for qualified professionals and are not a substitute for appropriate training and ongoing supervision.