Candy Land

It's not always as hard as we make it.

It’s not always as hard as we make it.

“I don’t know what you are doing in there but it is working. Thank you so much…”

I felt a little surprised by this sentiment.

I had been seeing her daughter for about fifteen weeks and had been a little stumped lately as to which direction I would take her sessions.

As an intern for a private counseling practice in Orange County, CA I had somehow stumbled upon having several teen and preteen clients. The standard protocol was to meet with the parent(s) and child together to discuss confidentiality and my obligation as the therapist. This first session clarified that I was the therapist for the child and that my confidentiality was to protect them (the child) unless there was a reason to believe they were a harm to themselves, harm to someone else or if there was any stated abuse.

Those were the only reasons I could break confidentiality.

Course of therapy and treatment plan were discussed with mom and dad, but what was said in the room was between me and the client.


The first few sessions were awkward. “Yes” and “no” answers and your basic preteen angst, rolling of eyes and “I don’t know why I’m even here, whatevs” attitude.

After three sessions of painful silence, sitting in my own anxiety and not trying to fill the silence, I finally suggested she pick a board game.

There were plenty of them in the play therapy room where we regularly met.

We settled on Candy Land (or was it Chutes and Ladders).

As we played we engaged in a game of parallel process ourselves.

I’d ask a question, she would answer “yes” or “no.”

I’d ask a question, she would answer “yes” or “no.”

It was a game within a game and she was not spilling any beans.

At the end of the session, she would thank me for the game and we’d go back out into the lobby where her mother was waiting.

I smiled at mom and said “see you guys next week.”


The following week, we would do the same thing.

She’d pick a game. I’d ask questions, she’d answer “yes” or “no,” then we’d meet her mom in the lobby.

I kept thinking I should tell her mom that she was paying me $100/hour to play Candy Land with her daughter and that she could be saving a lot of money if she would just spend a little time with her kid, but I didn’t. I just kept doing my thing.

About ten weeks in, I met with mom and that’s when she told me.

“I don’t know what you are doing in there, but it is working. Thank you so much.”

Mom fought back tears and told me her daughter had been opening up to her at home and that she was a different kid since she started seeing me. Her gratitude was genuine and heartfelt. I could see that she had gotten a piece of her daughter back.

About a month later, we mutually terminated our time in therapy.


See, sometimes our job is simply to sit with someone.

Open the space, allow them to just sit and process without prying or offering solutions.

Sometimes we just create space for someone and allow the process to happen on it’s own.

With or without us.

As much as I wanted to be the amazing therapist who performed some great intervention that made that kid whole again, I wasn’t.

I was merely the conduit to make space for her and her mama to heal themselves.

I sat in silence and anxiety and awkwardness while she and her mother found common ground at home.


I will never ever forget that lesson as long as I live.

I will never forget that for my own kids as well.

Sometimes the silence and the anxiety and the awkwardness are just as healing as the big, crazy intervention.

Relax and just trust the process.

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Categories: All The Rest

4 replies

  1. As a parent with a child wo gets mad and upset but wont tell us any i felt like I was in that moms place. Tracy and I have tried it all except therapy.

    That was a good read this morning. Little teary but good.

    Scott.

    I got Bridgers for the win tonight even though I always pick against UGA.

    • Thanks, Scott. It’s tricky dealing with resistant kids. Play therapy evens the playing ground. They can still be kids because they are playing but they can also process big stuff while they are connecting and given space to be who they are. I had adult clients who responded well to play therapy – play is good for all of us sometimes.

      And yeah, I have Bridgers too. Duh!

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