Nurture Your Inner Child, Pt. 3 - feature image

This year at Sunset Sip, we’re inviting guests to nurture their inner child and experience the healing power of play like our clients do in treatment.

Last week, Nathan Swaringen, LCSW, shared 6-year-old Victor’s story and how play gave him a voice. Now, he shares Carl’s story and explains how play therapy helped this 15-year-old heal, demonstrating that there is no age limit to play’s healing powers.

How might play therapy look with an adolescent, “too cool” to play with toys? In my experience, everyone has an inner child; an innocence inside of us all, only willing to let the walls down to come out when it feels safe and cared for.

Fifteen year-old Carl* was referred for mental health services due to symptoms of anger and defiance at school and in the home. In my experience, anger and defiance are always about emotional pain and a need for power and control to feel safe in an overwhelming and uncontrollable life.

Carl’s life had been recently turned upside down due to his father suddenly leaving the family after learning of Carl’s mother’s infidelity. Carl lived with his mother and was understandably devastated and furious with her.

The traditional therapist in me fell back to old beliefs; certainly, Carl had to talk about and process his feelings of anger about his parents’ separation. I tried, but Carl wasn’t having any of it. He only wanted to play UNO, every…single…week.

We played and played as our relationship grew. We talked a lot, but never about his family situation. He led the conversations, not me. We talked about movies, video games, sports, school, friends, and his hopes and dreams as we played UNO.

Slowly, but surely, Carl began to improve, with reports from his mother and teachers of less anger and defiance, and improved grades in school. He improved so much that we moved towards termination of therapy services.

At his “graduation” session, I expressed my pride in him and couldn’t help but inquire; “Obviously playing UNO every session for months has helped you, but I’m not sure how…” I’ll never forget his reply; “I don’t know how to explain it, but when I’m playing cards with you, I feel safe.”

It is amazing the amount of healing that can occur when we experience the presence of someone who is kind, patient, caring, and understanding, allowing us to feel felt. The healing power of play is not a technique to be done to a child. It is a way of being with a child.

You can ensure children like Victor and Carl can experience the healing power of play and create positive productive futures for themselves by attending Sunset Sip 2017. Tickets and sponsorship opportunities are available at

*Name changed to maintain confidentiality.