Synergetic Play Therapy Training 2016-10-22T20:40:53+00:00

When I was 29 weeks pregnant I was in a hit and run car accident that sent me into labor.  Little did I know that I had just experienced the catalyst that would forever change me, my understanding of the power of attuned connection and the trajectory of my career.   As fate would have it, my daughter was not born and made it to 39 weeks, but what was born was Synergetic Play Therapy.  Read the full story on my blog or watch the History video.

Synergetics is the empirical study of systems in transformation, with an emphasis on total system behavior unpredicted by the behavior of any isolated components.

Synergetic Play Therapy™(SPT) is the first research-informed play therapy model to blend together neuroscience, attachment/attunement, therapist authenticity, physics, emotional congruence, nervous system regulation, and mindfulness (2010). Although Synergetic Play Therapy is called a model of play therapy, it is actually a way of being in relationship with self and other. It is an all-encompassing paradigm and can be applied to any facet of life and subsequently any current model of therapy or “ology” can also be applied to it.

“SPT is a game changer. It gives birth to the authentic self within the child and the therapist…”

For training information, visit my calendar or the events calendar at the Play Therapy Institute of Colorado.

 History of Synergetic Play Therapy:
How a Tragedy Inspired a new Play Therapy Model

Renown therapist Lisa Dion developed Synergetic Play Therapy after a hit-and-run car accident.

When I was 29 weeks pregnant with my daughter, I was in a hit-and-run car accident. As a result of the accident, I ended up in the hospital in labor. For three days, a team of doctors worked diligently trying to stop my contractions. Each time the medication that I was given to calm them would wear out, my contractions would spike.  And so would my baby’s dys-regulation. Rather than calm with the medication, my baby would try to fight back. It was clear that her sympathetic nervous system was in overdrive…. Read More

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 Philosophy of Synergetic Play Therapy

“SPT is a new way of conceptualizing the therapeutic process by utilizing concepts from neuroscience, nervous system regulation, therapist authenticity, attunement and emotional congruency. It encourages us to look at all parts of ourselves and to fully engage in who we authentically are, so that we can model and teach that to the children we work with.” 

-Cathy Lopez-Wesell, Certified Synergetic Play Therapist

Synergetic Play Therapy™ (SPT) is a cutting edge model of play therapy designed to re-pattern the disorganization in the lower brain centers, areas that are often un-addressed in many current play therapy models. Often referred to as “the new paradigm of healing in play therapy” by many students, Synergetic Play Therapy™ is the first researched informed play therapy model to blend together neuroscience, attachment/attunement, therapist authenticity, physics, emotional congruence, nervous system regulation, and mindfulness and more to get to the heart of the healing process for children (and the therapist!).

When a therapist becomes centered, they can facilitate collaborative communication, thus creating a synergy between themselves and the child. “Such communication allows for the creation of brain connections that are vital for the development of a child’s capacity for self regulation.” Dan Siegel

Although the principles of SPT can be applied to both directive and non-direct models, it is first learned in a non-directive approach, allowing the client to lead the play. Whether in a directive or non-directive approach, the challenging emotional states and enactments that arise are precipitated by the child client.  The client must feel that they are in charge of their experience.  The attuned Synergetic Play Therapist knows when to help the client move towards their emotions and physical sensations and when it is important to gently back away to prevent emotional flooding. 

The Synergetic Play Therapist aims to replicate the delicate dance of attunement that occurs between a caregiver and an infant. Since 60% of communication is non-verbal (Burgoon, 1985), it is important that the therapist’s verbalizations and non-verbal activity are congruent during the play therapy sessions in order to transmit trust and safety to the client (Shore, 2006). In doing so, the therapist maximizes right-hemisphere to right-hemisphere communication, and can act as an external regulator for the client’s dysregulated states (Shore, 1994) as they arise in the play therapy process.

The therapist is the most important toy in the playroom.  Toys are used to help facilitate 1)the relationship between the child and his or her perceptions of the challenging experiences in their lives and 2)the relationship between the therapist and the child.  SPT believes that the toys themselves are not as important as the energy and emotions that arise as a result of how the child is playing with them.  In SPT’s truest form toys and language are not required.

SPT posits that the therapist’s ability to engage in mindsight and model regulation of her own nervous system is the foundation for clients to learn how to manage their own. The therapist has to lead the way, just like a care giver has to lead the way for an infant.

The therapist must work at the edge of the window of tolerance and the regulatory boundary of the dys-regulated states in themselves and in the child in order to expand those boundaries and re-pattern the disorganization in the lower brain centers of the child.  A core principle of SPT is the therapist’s ability to be authentic and congruent in his or her expressions, coupled with the ability to model regulation through the crescendos and decrescendos of the therapist’s internal state that are in resonance with similar crescendos and decrescendos in the clients arousal system (Schore, 2006).  This allows the therapist to stay on the edge of the window of tolerance, and serves as a catalyst for the re-patterning of the dys-organization in the lower brain centers of the client.

“When the relationship is experienced as safe enough, the dissociated experiences will begin to come into conscious awareness.  As we resonate together, the activation will amplify and, if our window of tolerance is broad enough to contain this energy and information, our patient will also experience a widening of his or her window.  In the research of Carl Marci and colleagues (Marci & Reiss, 2005), these moments of autonomic synchrony were subjectively experienced as empathetically rich interpersonal joining.  This research showed that within the session, our nervous systems will flow into, out of, and back into synchrony many times.  This rhythm is parallel to the dance of mother and infant as they move from attunement to rupture and back to repair over and over, laying the foundation for security, optimism, and resilience” (Badenoch, 2006).

With repeated observation of the therapist’s willingness to stay authentic and move towards the challenging emotions and physical sensations aroused through the play, the child’s mirror neuron system is activated and the child learns that it is ok to also move towards their own challenging internal states.  Research shows that as clients begin to move towards their challenging internal states, new neural connections are created until a critical state is reached that results in a new neural organization (Edelman, 2004; Tyson, 2002)

In SPT, the child’s symptoms are understood as symptoms of a dys-regulated nervous system.  These dys-regulated states arise as a result of 1)the perceived challenges and thoughts he or she has regarding the events in his or her life and 2)he or she has lost attachment with him or herself and is attempting to be someone they are not (acting from “shoulds”), instead of being who they truly are.

Through the play itself, the Synergetic Play Therapist supports the child in changing his perceptions of the perceived challenging events and thoughts in his life, as well as getting in touch with his or her authentic self.

The result of Synergetic Play Therapy is that the child heals from the inside out and from the lowest part of the brain up.

  • The therapist supports the child in changing his perceptions of the perceived challenging events and thoughts in his life.
  • Attunement between therapist and child is essential to heal disorganization in the lower brain stem and re-pattern their nervous system
  • The therapist models self-regulation to the child, because children learn most through observation
  • The therapist’s ability to use mindfulness to be congruent and authentic in her language and non-verbal signals allows the child to feel safe in the relationship and engage in “mindsight”; a term coined by Daniel Siegel to describe the human capacity to perceive the mind of the self and others.  It is the lens through which we can understand our inner lives with more clarity, integrate the brain, and enhance our relationship with others.
  • The child’s symptoms are understood as symptoms of dys-regulated states of the nervous system.
  • The therapist is the most important toy in the playroom.   Toys are used to help facilitate the relationship between the therapist and the child.  At SPT’s essence, toys and language are not required.
  • The therapist supports the child in getting with who the child truly is rather than who she thinks she “should” be.
  • The synergy between the therapist’s authenticity, attunement, congruence, and nervous system regulation support the child in learning how to attach to self, the cornerstone of all healing.
  • The child projects his inner world onto the toys and therapist setting them up to experience his perception of what it feels like to be him.
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“Synergetic Play Therapy is not only a new and cutting edge model of play therapy, but also a process of personal growth. I have learned how to work with my edges of discomfort, to expand my own windows of tolerance and to be open to the ways in which true attunement with a child in the playroom can lead to a reciprocal growth process.”
Anne Watts, Certified Synergetic Play Therapist
“I don’t know how to thank Lisa enough for the transformative experience she has provided. She is teaching exactly what needs to be taught right now, and the way she goes about teaching it – with such clarity, kindness, generosity, and vision – is incomparable. I have never in my life, experienced such a profound workshop experience.”
Jula Levine, Synergetic Play Therapy Intensive Participant
“SPT is not only a new and cutting edge model of play therapy, but also a process of personal growth. I have learned how to work with my edges of discomfort, to expand my own windows of tolerance, and to be open to the ways in which true attune met with a child in the play room can lead to a reciprocal growth process.”
Erin Benetts, Certfied Synergetic Play Therapist
“Lisa is a brilliant teacher. I walk away from every class inspired and full of new ideas that I can immediately apply to deepen my work with families. I have learned so much about neurobiology as it relates to human behavior and techniques of play therapy. I continue to be amazed at children’s abilities to grow and overcome challenges quickly through Synergetic Play Therapy.”
Kelly Miller, Certified Synergetic Play Therapist
“The education, supervision and support I received through my training in Synergetic Play Therapy has been phenomenal. I am coming in to myself as a therapist in new and amazing ways; and the shifts I am experiencing with my clients have been profound. To have permission to be authentic with myself and my clients is truly liberating, not just for me but for them, as well. With Lisa’s support and guidance, I feel more confident and inspired in my work as a therapist than ever before.”
Sanam Pejuhesh, Certified Synergetic Play Therapist