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A Day in the Life of an RfG Clinician (2016)

By Maureen Sand, MSMFT, RfG-CP, RfG-CT

It’s summer and Sharon gets to the agency a half-hour before the children arrive and the groups begin. The morning includes three one-hour groups per day, after which the children have lunch and then have an hour of structured activity. The children look forward to the “fun time,” of the structured activity. However, as a clinician trained in “Rehearsals for Growth,” Sharon has a way to help the children have fun all day long!

Today, Sharon is excited because it’s the day that one of the groups that are offered is an identified “Rehearsals for Growth” group. The group averages between eight and ten children and the age range is between five and twelve. Sharon works with one other therapist and with a staff member. Although Sharon is the only therapist trained in Rehearsals for Growth, her colleague is interested in learning the therapeutic approach. Sharon thinks that, together, they make a good team.

Sharon is planning to do “Mirrors” as the main activity, but Sharon is also adept in changing her plans to “go with what is in the room.” If another therapeutic game or enactment is a better fit, she will improvise and use that enactment instead. Sharon smiles at the thought of needing to improvise when offering a “Drama Improv” approach!

As Sharon heads down the hall, she sees that William has already left the classroom and the day has just begun! At five years old, he is one of the youngest children in the program. William was referred to the program by his school counselor due to his hyperactivity and crying bouts in school. William had witnessed domestic violence and has stated that he worries about his mother. Today, William is being watched by a staff member, Carl, and William is not being cooperative. As Sharon knows that William enjoys speaking “gibberish,” she greets him in “gibberish.” William responds and Sharon and William share a “gibberish” conversation. Sharon then puts out her hand and William takes it. Sharon and William enter the classroom, as he has been distracted from his initial upset.

Sharon invites the children who want to participate in the “Rehearsals for Growth” group to form a circle with their chairs. Other group members elect to remain on the sidelines. They are the audience. The children already know that the games and enactments are voluntary. The group members understand that if they are not participating, they will earn group participation points for being good audience members. The children start with stretches. Sharon offered a stretch, which the children did, and then she invited Carl to offer a stretch. The children took turns offering stretches to their peers and the group members and staff follow their lead. At this point, Henry and Johnny, who were previously the “audience,” have joined the center group as they wanted a chance to demonstrate a stretch.

Sharon does not often start processing this early in the group but this time, she does. “How did it feel to offer a stretch and then have your friends follow your lead?” Peter said, “It felt good.” Peter had been in the program for three months and has three months to go. When he started, Peter had trouble with bullying but now he is helpful with the younger children. Julie, a ten-year-old girl, agreed. She said, “I felt like people were listening to me.” Julie’s parents are separated and she does not see her dad. Julie was a referral from the Department of Children and Families.

The other therapist, Kate, then began another warm-up, “Pass the Clap.” The children passed the clap around the circle. Kate timed the clap and they tried to improve their rate. Henry exclaimed, “Ten seconds! We did it in ten seconds!” Henry is new to the program, as he was admitted a month ago. Henry, eight years old, was referred by his Outpatient Clinician as he was not making progress and was still having problems in school. Like William, Henry tries to run out of the classroom when he is upset or bored. Henry seems to like the Rehearsals for Growth group and is usually quick to volunteer. Sharon and Carl than took on the role of changing the direction of the clap. Other children were given an opportunity to change the direction of the clap. The mood and affect in the room became lighter as the children were smiling and clapping.

Although Sharon meant to progress to the “Mirrors” enactment, William, the five-year-old who was outside the room earlier, spoke gibberish to Sharon. Responding to “what was in the room,” Sharon introduced “Poet’s Corner.” Sharon and Kate demonstrated the enactment. William raised his hand to go next and he and Kate did a round. After this, the children took turns. They seemed to enjoy both the “Poet” and the “Translator” roles. At this point, Johnny, a six-year-old, who did not want to wait his turn for a role, approached the “stage.” Sharon asked him to “hold the microphone,” which he readily did. Julie rose from her chair and Sharon asked her to “direct the spotlight” towards the actors. Sharon then asked Ramon, who didn’t have a role, to do the countdown, “1-2-3, Action!” Ramon is eleven and is usually very quiet but today he yelled out the countdown. Multiple scenes of “Poet’s Corner” were played. As the children participated in the enactment, they naturally began to accept each other’s offers. The “Poets” used their hands and their facial features to convey their story as well as the gibberish. The “Translators” were able to read the gestures and incorporate them in the story. If the “Poet” pointed in a far off direction, the “Translator” said that the “Poet” was from “far, far, away.”

Many of the children who were participating as “Poets” also wanted a chance to be the “Translator.” And this is where Sharon struggles. She knows that if everyone is given a turn to do both roles, some of the children will tire of the enactment and will become bored, leading to off-task behaviors. She had warned the children that not everyone will have a chance for both roles. However, Sharon feels guilty for ending the enactment before everyone has had both turns, as it does not feel fair, yet she recognizes the signs that the children are becoming restless. Also, with some children taking on auxiliary roles of the “microphone holder” and the “spotlight,” it was not easy for Sharon to keep the scenes organized and some participants became a bit unruly. Sharon made a note on her clipboard to bring these concerns up in her next supervision.

At this point, Sharon asks the audience for “shout outs.” William was praised for his ability to speak gibberish. Henry was praised for his acting ability. The actors were asked to process how they felt during the enactment. Johnny reported that he felt successful. They were asked about other times in their lives that they felt successful. Johnny said, “When I got a hit in baseball!” The children were asked how they felt their translator did with their story. “I thought my translator did great,” Julie said. “It was teamwork!” The children were asked if there were times that they were “understood” or if they had times that they were “misunderstood.” Julie helped to explain the concept of “being misunderstood” to the younger children.

As the group wraps up, the children were encouraged to take off their “acting clothes.” They pretended to place their costumes in the middle of the circle. Henry pretended to light a fire to burn their costumes and Johnny pretended to help him. Kate asked the children to identify a “take away” and Sharon went first to demonstrate as several group members were new. “I take away creativity,” Sharon said. Other “take-aways” included: “having fun, being creative, speaking gibberish,” and “being a poet.” Carl passed out small prizes (decorated pencils) as a reward before they transitioned to their next group session. Sharon then took a deep breath and relaxed as Kate started an anger management group.

After the three group sessions were completed and the children ate lunch, Sharon held an individual session with Henry. Henry was using the sand tray as a soothing activity but did not want to talk. Sharon and Henry “co-created” a story by using the “Fortunately/Unfortunately” enactment. Sharon prompted each sentence by saying “Fortunately” and then “Unfortunately.” Henry became more animated as he furthered the story and seemed proud of his efforts. This enactment led to his being able to talk about what was bothering him and how he could deal with such situations in the future.

A couple of hours later, Sharon also walked towards the exit, having completed her documentation of the sessions. Sharon had also made some notes from the “Rehearsals for Growth” group to ask her supervisor. Although her supervisor is not trained in Rehearsals for Growth, she has many years of experience in running groups with children and Sharon appreciates her feedback. This therapeutic drama approach has become more accepted over the years that Sharon has been with the agency. She smiled to herself, remembering the playfulness of the family members during their session. “It was a good day,” Sharon thought, as she walked out the door, and into the warm, summer afternoon.