It is my pleasure to share with you a story of a client who started off at The Guidance Center at the tender age of 2 years old.
Shy and reserved, Jazzy walked into her new therapist’s office a little uncertain because she had first met with a different therapist when she started treatment. She looked around the new office and at the new therapist not quite understanding the change in faces. I knelt down, eye level with this new little person saying, “Hi, my name is Stevie!” She stared, no smile, no laughter, not even a high-five. She ran behind her mother and hugged her leg. I told, Cecilia, her mother, “I get it. She don’t like beards.” Cecilia laughed, and explained to Jazzy that I was the new therapist that she would be meeting with now. And that’s where this journey with Jazzy begins.
Cecilia put their story all out on table and didn’t leave out any details. She explained that she and her husband had lost custody of their only child due to drugs and weapons found in the home. Cecilia tearfully expressed her errors and how she realized that she did not create a positive environment for Jazzy. She vividly stated that, “that was my wake up call.” Cecilia received a great amount of support from relatives to take care of Jazzy while she was allowed monitored visits. Jazzy was reserved and resistant, still exploring the whole process of what had actually happened. For the first few sessions I could not get Jazzy to speak to me, but Cecilia expressed that she was more than capable.
It was in one session where Cecilia and I decided to play with the Play-Doh without Jazzy that things began to change. Jazzy whispered in her mom’s ear saying, “I want to play.” Cecilia said, “You have to ask Stevie.” Jazzy took one step, then a big jump toward me with the cutest smile, she whispered, asking me to play with the Play-Doh. And that’s when the magic began!
I explained to Cecilia the benefits of play therapy and how effective it could be when understanding what Jazzy may be feeling about everything that has occurred within the last year. From different transitions at home to becoming familiar with new faces as well. During our sessions, I provided a safe space for Jazzy to play and told Cecilia to feel free to join her to build attachment as well.
Cecilia has been Jazzy’s backbone through the entire therapeutic process, while obtaining her own individual mental health services, parenting classes and being present for Jazzy every session for family therapy. Determined to right her wrongs, Cecilia has remained consistent, positive, and hopeful each and every session.
Jazzy gravitated toward the Play-Doh the majority of the time in most sessions. She would create different foods and serve them on plastic toy plates to her mother in session. My thoughts were: Jazzy was either eating a lot of burgers when she was with her mother or she was seeking that praise and approval from her mother and desiring to build that connection. I encouraged Cecilia to compliment and praise Jazzy for her efforts to feed her. Cecilia did not hesitate to say, “Thank you Baby,” each time and pretended to eat the food with Jazzy. This showed me how in tune Cecilia was with Jazzy and what that bond meant to her.
On the other hand, Jazzy loved my toys in the office, but she continued to be resistant to involving me into her play circle. It almost felt as if I was working in the shadows, prompting Cecilia to work with Jazzy, but not fully engaging with Jazzy. I would talk and talk, but all I would hear is Jazzy whispering to her mother. She would consistently ask to play with the toys, but that’s the only interaction I received from her. She would stare, smile, and then bury her face in the pillow in my office when I would ask her questions. I thought to myself, what could I use or possibly do to build more of a connection with Jazzy? Now I know this may sound very simple and elementary, but the light bulb turned on over my head and I said “Bubble Blowing.” What kid doesn’t like bubble blowing, right?! Bubble blowing in a therapeutic setting is commonly used for younger kids to gain skills in deep breathing and relaxation. Learning how to slowly inhale and exhale air to expand a bubble is a key element in practicing this skill. It’s great that it is so simple because any parent can teach the skill to their children. And I figured that I didn’t have anything to lose, and bubble blowing could possibly help her build that connection with me in session.
When I first introduced the bubble blowing strategy in session Jazzy became really excited, an excitement that I had not seen before. I modeled my masterful bubble blowing technique for Jazzy and her mother. Jazzy’s eyes became so bright and a full smile spread across her face. At this point, I became a professional bubble blower, as all the bubbles wandered around my office. Jazzy trotted all around, clapping her hands attempting to pop every bubble. Jazzy said, “Mommy look at the bubbles.” I noticed immediately that Jazzy didn’t whisper, and I and my professional bubble blowing talents had her attention. And then it was her turn to blow a bubble. Jazzy struggled the first couple of times. I encouraged Cecilia to guide Jazzy to help her blow a bubble. Before you know it, Jazzy was blowing bubbles all over my office. Suddenly, something happened that I didn’t expect, Jazzy turned to me and said, “Stevie’s turn to blow bubbles.” In shock, I said, “Yes! Yes, it is Stevie’s turn.”
After this bonding experience, I am now able to have two-way communication with Jazzy where I can ask Jazzy about her feelings for the day, what happened in her day, and her favorite things to do with her mommy. Jazzy was able to have a sense of safety when coming into my office. Then I noticed that Jazzy felt that she was able build trust in others by her simply saying, “Hi,” and engaging with other children her age in the waiting area. Cecilia jokingly stated that “Jazzy calls everyone her friend now whether they are at the park or in the mall.” Cecilia expressed that spending more time and using “play” helped Jazzy build that trust to decrease her fearful response toward others.
All that to say, Jazzy and her mom have been unified and have made great strides through family support, Department of Family and Children’s Services, Cecilia’s therapist Clinton Schmidt, LMFT and myself, Stevie McBride. Together we all worked to help the family process and make sense of everything that has happened over the past year. I am extremely thankful and proud of Cecilia and Jazzy. I’m especially proud of Cecilia for making all the endless amounts of appointments and working so hard on her personal growth in order to reunite her family. I’m also extremely thankful to work with a family, like Cecilia and Jazzy, that has persevered through their tough times. It has been challenging yet rewarding. To witness how Jazzy has grown socially with me and others, reminds me that I’m more than a professional bubble blower, I’m a proud therapist that is in love with his job.
Stevie McBride, LMFT, a clinical therapist in The Guidance Center’s Long Beach Outpatient Program, where he helps guide children and families struggling with mental health conditions or abuse toward positive and productive futures. He is especially passionate about collaborating with families and discovering key strategies to help them build healthy relationships with each other. Before joining The Guidance Center team in 2013, McBride worked with the Braille Institute, creating programs and providing resources for blind and visually impaired teenagers and families, as a Youth/Career Service Consultant. McBride earned a Master’s Degree in Marriage, Family, and Child Therapy at University of Phoenix.