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Center for Play and Art Therapy now at http://endritualabuse.org/center-for-play-and-art-therapy/

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Safe Place Imagery and Play

Play Therapy Continuing Education Classes at University of California- Extension

"There is an inmost centre in us all, where truth abides in fulness" - Robert Browning, Paracelsus

Ellen Lacter, Ph.D., RPT-S
San Diego, California
(619) 584-7737
Psychotherapy, Play Therapy, & Art Therapy for All Ages

Biography of Dr. Lacter

Ellen P. Lacter, Ph.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY 9382), a Registered Play Therapist and Supervisor (S444), and a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC17912). She is Past President of the California Association for Play Therapy (calplaytherapy.org).

Dr. Lacter is currently Academic Coordinator of the Play Therapy Certificate Program at the University of California, San Diego- Extension, where she is also a continuing education instructor, training psychotherapists in play and art therapy techniques and treatment of trauma.

Dr. Lacter has 30 years of clinical experience. She has been an art therapist in various agencies since 1975. Since 1984, she has been a psychotherapist and play therapist in private practice and instructor of graduate classes and conference presentations in child abuse, family violence, and treatment techniques with children through adults.

Dr. Lacter specializes in the treatment of abused children, adolescents, and adults abused as children, Dissociative Disorders, adopted children, and ritual abuse trauma, in addition to general practice with children, adolescents, adults, couples, and families.

Play, art, and the written and spoken word are the therapy tools available here to you and your child.

Click on Links to Pages on this Website:

Safe Place Imagery and Play

Dr. Lacter's Services


Contact Dr. Lacter

Ellen P. Lacter, Ph.D.

3505 Camino del Rio South
Suite 212
San Diego, California 92108

Phone: (619) 584-7737
Fax: (858) 549-4202

Click on links below to Dr. Lacter's Website "Advocacy for Victims of Ritual Abuse" and her article on "Treating Dissociative, Abused, and Ritually Abused Children":

Advocacy for Victims of Ritual Abuse

Treating Dissociative, Abused, and Ritually Abused Children

Contact Dr. Lacter by E-mail (Please omit confidential information from e-mail correspondence because its security cannot be guaranteed)

Why Children Play

Children's imaginative play is a direct expression of a child's inner self. It is our window into the child's world. When we become absorbed in a child's dramas, we earn a ticket into this world, and the child will reveal to us everything that he or she feels, fears, and wishes.

When children are very anxious, they tend to gravitate to the familiar and comfortable to self-soothe, as in hugging a teddy bear or rocking a baby doll. It is a form of retreat.

In general, children's imaginative play is an arena of much great complexity. It is where they confront their fears. Play is fueled by children's drive for mastery of their deepest concerns and challenges. In play, they represent their fears to "work them out".

Play "works" because it permits children to disguise their fears in a world of fantasy. Optimal psychological distance from anxiety-laden issues is achieved through symbolization. Children can experience challenging emotions in measured doses that they control. In this miniature and magical world, they can triumph over their fears. No longer need they feel small, afraid, defeated, or alone. In their dramas, they can feel empowered, secure, and hopeful. They can have allies and protectors in the midst of the most frightening trauma.

Play Therapy: A Tool to Understand and Help

Play therapy "works" because play provides a medium for in-depth communication between the child and therapist. The therapist's reverence for this expression, in it's simplicity or complexity, results in the child feeling completely accepted. Painful emotions feel contained. As the therapist empathizes with the protagonists in the child's dramas, the child feels increasingly supported, and the child's needs, fears, traumatic experiences, etc., emerge more and more fully in the child's dramas.

Through ongoing observation, hypotheses can be drawn about the bases of the child's behavioral or emotional problems. This assessment generally involves collaboration with the child's caregivers. Once the child's underlying problems are understood, the therapist can provide informed suggestions to the child's caregivers for addressing the child's psychological needs.

In some cases, the child's healing occurs through this process alone. Children work out their fears, trauma, and losses in their dramas within this supportive relationship. In the miniature world of play, they develop an increased capacity to deal with difficult emotions, they discharge their anger, they find triumph and safety, they come to accept their losses, and they build new worlds based on their hopes and dreams.

For example, abused children usually approach their trauma very gradually in their play. Early dramas may include themes of love and safety, to build a foundation for facing the more threatening subject matter. They may then play about super-heros, or docile and predatory animals. Next, they may play about police fighting criminals, still disguising the events related to their abuse. In time, they can play directly about their trauma, identifying perpetrators by name, arresting them, or "telling them off".

Some children do not have adequate inner resources to resolve underlying concerns unassisted. The play therapist will intervene in these children's pretend world to help them conquer their fears. For example, some abused children feel too paralyzed with fear to help the protagonists in their dramas. The therapist may subtly suggest resolutions within the drama, until the child can achieve mastery by himself or herself.

Play techniques can be modified for use with older children, adolescents, and adults.

Art Therapy

Art Therapy "works" with older children, adolescents, and adults, much like play therapy for younger children. One's deepest concerns find expression in art, allowing for in-depth communication with the therapist, and processing and healing of deeply-held feelings, fears, losses, trauma, and conflicts.

(Copyright, 2005, Center for Play and Art Therapy)