David A. Crenshaw
Therapeutic Exploration of key issues of loss, disappointment, and hopes
and dreams for the future
Recommended Age Range:
Nine to Seventeen
Individual, Group, and Family Therapy
offer older children and teens structure that facilitates communication
about important losses and disappointments
facilitate therapeutic communication about what is valuable and worth
holding onto from their past
further therapeutic exchange regarding hopes and dreams for the future
highlight strengths and resilience
Paper, Pencil, Markers, Colored Pencils, Crayons
The child is asked
to imagine what is on the other side of the three doors. The first door
is the door to their past that opens to whatever disappointments,
losses, or setbacks that they’ve experienced. These are experiences they
may wish to put behind them. The second door opens to the things they
want to hold on to from their past. These could be happy memories,
relationships, skills, or lessons learned that they value and wish to
keep. The third door opens to their hopes and dreams for their future.
The child can either describe to the therapist what is behind each door,
or write, or draw or to use miniatures to symbolize what is to be found
on the other side of each door. The therapeutic value of this activity
will rest largely on the ability of the therapist to take what the child
or teen expresses and expand on it to create meaningful and heartfelt
exchange around issues central to the child’s emotional life.
This therapeutic activity like many others previously described
(Crenshaw, 2006; Crenshaw, 2008a; Crenshaw & Mordock, 2005) give
children and teens the tools to discuss matters in therapy that are
emotionally significant that they may wish to talk about but can’t
easily initiate the therapeutic conversation. The therapist can,
however, structure the therapeutic session by using such activities to
enable them to more easily share their inner feelings and in this
instance some of their regrets, disappointments, as well as valuable
lessons learned from their past, ways that their past hurtful
experiences may have strengthened them and their hopes and dreams for
This activity is
intended to honor the strengths-based approach and the view that
children can gain strength and hardiness from weathering some of the
disappointments and setbacks in their past and challenges them to seek
out what they would want to hold onto and carry forward from their past.
This focus draws on the Solution-Focused approach to therapy as
pioneered by Insoo Kim Berg and her colleagues. This activity is
informed by the strengths-based, competency approach to therapy (Brooks
& Goldstein, 2001; Brooks & Goldstein, 2004;
Goldstein, 2007; Waters & Lawrence, 1993). Garbarino (2008) observed,
“All of us have some capacity to deal with adversity, but some of us
have more than others and thus more resilient, whereas others are more
vulnerable in difficult times” (p.7). In pursuing the door to the past
it is important for clinicians to balance the recognition of and
honoring of strengths without in any way minimizing the genuine
suffering caused by harsh experiences in life or painful losses
(Crenshaw, in press).
Likewise, clinical sensitivity is required in pursuing the open door
that leads to the child’s hopes and dreams (Crenshaw, 2008a; Crenshaw,
2008b). Some children because of the adversities they’ve faced in life
keep their expectations low, a way of coping known as the “survival
orientation” (Hardy & Laszloffy, 2005). They can’t afford “the luxury of
hope” (Crenshaw, 2008a; 2008b). While hopes and dreams are vital forces
in the lives of children, it can in some cases fortify them for facing
tough challenges but is some cases may be regarded as dangerous to their
psychological well-being if their hopes and dreams have been crushed too
many times. Thus the third door offers insight into a given’s child
reliance on hope and dreams to sustain them in their quest for a better
life or whether they are afraid to entertain hopes and dreams because
they can bear further disappointments.
One of the advantages of this strategy is the wide range of choices
offered to children and teens from direct verbal expression to drawing,
therapeutic writing or even the use of symbols to communicate their
Brooks, R. & Goldstein, S. (2001). Raising resilient children.
New York: McGraw- Hill.
Brooks, R. &
Goldstein, S. (2004). The power of resilience: Achieving balance,
confidence, and personal strength in your life.
New York: McGraw-Hill.
Brooks, R. & Goldstein, S. (2007). Raising a self-disciplined
child. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Crenshaw, D. A. (2008a). Therapeutic engagement of children and
adolescents. Lanham, MD: Jason Aronson, an imprint of Rowman &
(Ed.). (2008b). Child and adolescent psychotherapy: Wounded spirits
and healing paths. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.
Crenshaw, D. A.
(ed.) (in press). Reverence in healing: Honoring strengths without trivializing suffering.
Lanham, MD: Jason
Aronson/Rowman & Littlefield.
(2008). Children and the dark side of human experience: Confronting
global realities and rethinking child development.
New York: Springer.
Hardy, K. V., & Laszloffy, T. (2005). Teens who hurt: Clinical
interventions to break the cycle of adolescent violence. New
York: Guilford Press.
Waters, D. & Lawrence, E. (1993). Competence, courage &
change: An approach to
© Copyright 2009 by David A.
Crenshaw, Ph.D. All rights reserved.