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Using Puppetry in Children’s Therapy

A common mistake is that puppetry is just for entertainment. Psychoanalytic, psychodynamic, jungian, cognitive and narrative theory can stand side by side and be combined with techniques from art therapy, play therapy, drama therapy and psychodrama to make puppery a viable form of therapy.

"Puppets are sometimes made as conscious self-representations or representations of others, but more often, puppets emerge that embody unconscious dynamics or parts of self that are not as easily or openly expressed.”

(Matthew Bernier, Bernier, M & O´Hare, J. 2005, s.125)

Yes, difficult to understand and long winded, but in layman’s terms, it’s easy for children to place a level of realism on the puppet that helps them project in a way they can’t do by themselves.

The different ways that puppets can be used in therapy settings can be rather unique, this is one of the biggest advantages to using puppets. Kids can build puppets, design puppets, write scripts, all sorts of areas that help them to get comfortable with opening up.

The indirect work with puppets create a safe space that makes the whole experience of sharing less stressful. “It’s not me, it’s the puppet that is doing things, speaking, sharing and opening up about things, not me.” If they project on the puppet, then they are not to be blamed any more.

In the safe space the nonverbal can now become verbal as the child’s stories come out through play. The child gets a sense of control that may have been lost when they were abused. it helps them feel a sense of self-control; they feel in charge of the puppets.

Therapists with different backgrounds use puppets in therapy around the world, but currently very few work full time as puppet therapists.

Getting Educated

If you are interested, there are two schools currently giving specific education in becoming puppet therapists, but both are unfortunately in Germany and Switzerland; I hope that this will be more of a vocation here in the US in the future.

We often hear how children are resiliant and bounce back, but too often, the kids now days bottle things up and feel that they can’t express themselves; puppetry is an amazing way for therapists to get children to open up.

There are quite a few articles that have been published in psychology and medical journals. Again. Long winded and difficult to understand if you are not used to medical jargon, but some are pretty interesting.

Just to point out a few:

Alger, I, Linn, S & Beardslee, W. (1985). Puppetry as a therapeutic tool for hospitalized children. Hospital & Community Psychiatry, 1985 Feb, Vol. 36 (2), pp.129-30.

Aronoff, M. (1996). Puppetry as a therapeutic medium: An introduction. Brittish Journal of Therapeutic Rehabilitation, 3, 210-214 (Parts in Bernier, M & O´Hare, J from 2005)

Aronoff, M. (1997). Puppetry projects with children in psychiatric assessment units of pediatric hospitals. La Marionette et Les Ages de la Vie, Comte Rendu Villéme Colloque International, Organisé par Association "Marionette et Thérapie", 14-18.

Astell-Burt, C. (1981). Puppetry for mentally handicapped people. London: Souvenir Press (teacher at London School of Puppetry)

Astell-Burt, C. (2002). I am the story – The Art of Puppetry in Education and Therapy. London: Souvenir Press.

Bender, L. & Woltmann, A. (1936). The use of puppet shows as a therapeutic method for behaviour problems in children. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 6, 341-354.

Bernier, M. & O´Hare, J. (red) (2005). Puppetry in Education and Therapy – Unlocking Doors to the Mind and Heart. Indiana: Authorhouse. (26 authors, 8 of them in the therapeutic area)

Bernier, M. (1983). Puppetry as an art therapy technique with emotionally disturbed children. Master thesis, Hahnemann University. 183 typewrited pages.

Bromfield, R. (1995). The use of puppets in play therapy. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal 12(6), 435-444.

Carter, R.B. & Mason P.S. (1998). The selection and use of puppets in counselling. Professional School Counseling 1(5), 50-54.

Cole, N.A. (1993). Lend them a hand: Therapeutic puppetry. Box 45, Milford, Ontario, Canada, KOK 2PO: Arthur Cole

Dehghan, Z., Reyhani, T., Mohammadpour, V., Aemmi, S.Z., Shojaeian, R.,& Asgharinekah, S.M.(2017). The Effectiveness of Dramatic Puppet and Therapeutic Playing. Anxiety Reduction in Children Undergoing Surgery.

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