An eight-year-old draws houses with huge roofs. If I can just figure out what her symbolism is, I’ll be able to understand her.
Nearly every person on this planet has had parents, friends, relatives, neighbors and total strangers trying to figure them out since the person was born. The probability that a psychologically sophisticated observer such as yourself would be able to correctly interpret drawings, behaviors, speech, and body language, might be as high as seventy to ninety percent. Suppose that you have managed to break this girl’s symbolism code. Now you know stuff about her that she does not even know herself. This may be intellectually satisfying for you and alleviate some of your existential anxiety about not knowing what do to next, but it does not directly do anything for the girl at all.
For the intellectually oriented adult on the other hand, an understanding of self, often gives internal permission to access occluded emotional material. Even so, while knowing things may make a person’s integration of psychological work more interesting to him, understanding by itself does not lead to resolution.
I thought if I could understand her, then I could help her.
The way to help this child is to hold her in a container of unconditional acceptance. Hold the view that the human organism is always moving toward the resolution of its issues. Within that frame, the therapist’s job is to act as:
- Parent Object
(unconditional positive regard)
- Universal Witness
(no judgments, no agendas)
- Blank Slate
(onto which projections can occur)
- Encourager Of Process
- Reality Test
- Mentally Healthy Role Model
Your professional task is to provide this child with an protected environment free of external interpretations and opinions. Focus your energy and access the nonjudgmental, loving parent, house-with-a-big-roof part of yourself. Allow this girl to introject your positive regard. Within such a frame, this child will, in time, heal herself, even if you never understand a thing about the content of her healing process. Support her movement toward the resolution of unresolved or repressed experiences at her own rate and in her own way. Trust that, within the safety of your office, she will naturally move towards mental health.