Using Cartoon Characters in Therapy Sessions & Engaging in Anti-Racist Play Therapy

At the start of working remotely, I was excited to gain skills in telemental health sessions, as well as try new activities with the kids I work with. After four months of teletherapy, however, I have found it increasingly difficult to keep sessions interesting and engaging for the kids, and to not repeat too many of the same activities.

I was racking my brain the day of a teletherapy session with a child. I completed a 1000th Google search for inspiration, and ventured over to Pinterest, but nothing was really striking a chord with me. All of a sudden, the lightbulb turned on, and I had an idea. I began searching the web for illustrations or cartoons of different children characters. I copy and pasted these images into a Word Document, cut them out, and used manual lamination sheets to laminate them. I finally cut them out, and now have a good collection of diverse illustrated characters for use in play therapy. But how can I use this in session? Creativity is essential in social work, and espeically now. A simple idea, like using pictures, can be a great tool for therapy and teletherapy. Here are some ideas on how you can apply this easy-to-use play therapy tool.

  1. If you do not have access to stuffed animals or dolls, these characters are a great option to practice interpersonal skills, social skills, and communication with kids. Or perhaps you’re tired and bored of using the same toys, and these are a break from the norm. I’ve found these particularly useful in teletherapy, as the child can see them on the screen. In doing this, the child can imagine that it’s their very own TV show, and they have the ability to decide who says what and what happens.
  2. Practice feeling expression and feeling faces. This is a go-to with kids, especially when doing basic CBT with them. There are so many ways to practice feeling words and feeling faces, and this a great option. The child you’re working with can choose an character that best resembles how they’re feeling. They can choose to have the character act a certain way, say something, or describe what happened to cause that feeling.
  3. Not only are these simple laminated illustrations easy-to-use for teletherapy, but they’re a great tool for in-person sessions as well. I love using a white board with kids. Used in combination with these cards, you can have the child draw a setting, and use the characters to act out a scene or replay an actual event the child experienced. An old-school variation of this method would be using cloth-made characters and creating a scene or story line with a felt board. The essence is the same, just with a modern take.

These are just a few of the ways this simple and cheap tool can be used in play therapy and teletherapy. As social workers, however, we want to ensure we are engaging in anti-racist and inclusive practice. Not only with this activity, but in all other tools and play therapy activities and toys, always ensure that there is diversity and representation. As a therapist that works in Brooklyn, NY, I primarily work with children in black and brown communities. When searching for these illustrated images earlier, the vast majority of the Google results showed white children. In creating activities, worksheets, and toys, it is important we take the time to diversify our tools and resources to provide a holistic and relatable experience for the child. This means buying children’s books with black children as main characters, using black baby dolls in session, and also ensuring that the diverse toys and activities do not only include minority groups within stereotypical characters or scenes. In using this activity and engaging in anti-racist practice at all levels, it is sure that your practice will be effective and welcoming for all people.

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