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 (a term coined by physicist Buckminster Fuller) is the study of systems in transformation, with an emphasis on total system behavior unpredicted by the behavior of any isolated components.

Synergetic Play Therapy® honors both the therapeutic powers of play, the science that governs relationship, and the development of the therapist, recognizing that it is ultimately the interplay between these three systems that support deep transformation for both therapist and child.

The word itself is also reflective of what is happening in the playroom and how integration and healing occurs. As the therapist attunes to their own internal systems and then attunes to the internal systems of the child, a union of systems occurs. In this union, a synergy forms, allowing for co-regulation to emerge. The co-regulation supports both the therapist and the child in their ability to move towards the uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and body sensations that they would not have been able to move towards as easily on their own.

During this “synergy of systems”, therapist and child enter something akin to a “Synergetic field’ where right hemisphere to right hemisphere communication emerges, allowing for integration and transformation.

Curious? Check out the toggles on this page and the tabs in the sidebar to learn more about the history, philosophy, tenets, research, and training of SPT.

“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 training calendar at the Synergetic Play Therapy Institute.

 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

Synergetic Play Therapy® (2008) is a researched-informed model of play therapy blending the therapeutic power of play with nervous system regulation, interpersonal neurobiology, physics, attachment, mindfulness, and therapist authenticity. Its primary play therapy influences are Child-Centered, Experiential, and Gestalt theories.

To learn more about SPT’s primary influences, click here.

Although Synergetic  Play Therapy® is a model of play therapy, it’s also a way of being in relationship with self and others. It’s an all-encompassing paradigm that can be applied to any facet of life and, subsequently, any model of play therapy can be applied to it or vice versa. Synergetic Play Therapy™ is both non-directive and directive in its application.

With certification training hubs in the United States (Boulder, CO), Canada (Vancouver, BC), and Australia (Melbourne) as well as online training courses, Synergetic Play Therapy® is now accessible from multiple locations.

Visit The Synergetic Play Therapy Website

 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

The Synergetic Play Therapist aims to replicate the delicate dance of attunement that occurs between a caregiver and an infant. Since over 60% of communication is non-verbal, 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. In doing so, the therapist maximizes right-hemisphere to right-hemisphere communication and acts 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/her/their perceptions of the challenging experiences in his/her/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 Synergetic Play Therapy’s (SPT) truest form, toys and language are not required.

SPT posits that the therapist’s ability to engage in mindfulness and model regulation of his/her/their own nervous system is the foundation for clients to learn how to manage his/her/their own nervous system. The therapist has to lead the way, just like a caregiver 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 dysregulated states inside both child and therapist in order to expand those boundaries and re-pattern the disorganization in the nervous system. A core principal of SPT is the therapist’s ability to be authentic and congruent in his/her/their expressions, coupled with the ability to co-regulate through the crescendos and decrescendos in the client’s arousal system (Shore, 2006), allowing the child to move towards the uncomfortable thoughts, emotions and sensations that are attempting to be integrated.

“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, 2008)

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 his/her/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).

As an all-encompassing paradigm with Child-Centered, Gestalt, and Experiential Play Therapy influences, it expands on the therapeutic powers of play while focusing on being in relationship with the child, not doing something to the child. Through the play itself, the Synergetic Play Therapist supports the child in changing his/her/their perceptions of the perceived challenging events and thoughts in his/her/their life, as well as getting in touch with his/her/their authentic self.

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 the child is having regarding the events in his/her/their life and 2) The child has lost attachment with him/ her/their self and is attempting to be someone they are not (acting from “shoulds”) instead of being who they truly are.

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

Resources:

Badenoch, B. (2008).Being a brain-wise therapist: A practical guide to interpersonal neurobiology.New York, NY: Norton.

Edelman, G. M. (1987). Neural Darwinism.New York, NY: Basic Books.

Iacoboni, M. (2008). Mirroring people: The new science of how we connect with others. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Marci, C. D., & Reiss, H. (2005). The clinical relevance of psychophysiology: Support for the psychobiology of empathy and psychodynamic process. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 259, 213–226.

Schore, A. N. (1994).Affect regulation and the origin of the self: The neurobiology of emotional development.New York, NY: Erlbaum.

Tyson, P. (2002). The challenges of psychoanalytic developmental theory. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 50(1), 19–52.

1. The therapist supports the child in changing his/her/their perceptions of the perceived challenging events and thoughts in his/her/their lives.

2. Attunement between therapist and child is essential in order to heal disorganization in the lower brain stem and re-pattern their nervous system.

3. The therapist models self-regulation to the child, because children learn most through observation.

4. The therapist’s ability to use mindfulness to be congruent and authentic in language and non-verbal signals allows the child to feel safe in the relationship and engage in reflective awareness.

5. The child’s symptoms are understood as symptoms of dys-regulated states of the nervous system.

6. The therapist is the most important toy in the playroom. Toys are used to help facilitate the relationship between the therapist and the child. In SPT’s truest form toys and language are not required.

7. The therapist supports the child in getting in touch with the child’s authentic self; who the child truly is rather than who the child thinks he/she/they should be.

8. 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.

9. The child projects his/her/their inner world onto the toys and therapist setting them up to experience his/her/their perception of what it feels like to be him/her/them.

Synergetic Play Therapy® Tenets

© 2011..2020 Lisa Dion, LPC, RPT-S

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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