In a world full of harsh criticism and endless, unrealistic or unattainable goals, Rachel Gottesdiner is seeking to reintroduce positivity, containment and warmth to childhood. Her clinic, aptly titled, The REAL Game, seeks to unearth each child’s unique potential, direct focus to it and empower the child to achieve it, though active, imaginative play and carefully attuned therapeutic reflection. Rachel’s patients may vary in age and come from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, but they all share a single common factor—low self-esteem.
“There’s no such thing as being a perfect parent or educator,” Rachel says with conviction, “And there is no need to achieve perfection. Parents and teachers need only strive to do their best,” she continues, alluding to the good-enough parent theory of acclaimed psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott, the matriarch of play therapy. The theory stipulates parental attunement to the child’s needs, fulfilled according to the child’s age and temperament. As the child grows, the parent is to consciously delay gratification of non-urgent demands, to help the child develop robust cognition, as well as a healthy concept of external reality that is separated from illusion.
“We live in an achievement-oriented, highly critical world,” Rachel explains. “Consequently, many parents and educators create a relentless atmosphere where ambition reigns supreme—and criticism abounds No child is born with low self-esteem. Yet, by constantly pushing children to achieve, their self-esteem is pulverized at the hands of those who are supposed to lift them up, without their even knowing it.”
Rachel finds that any form of criticism is by definition destructive, slowly but relentlessly eating away at the child’s self-image. When coupled with an objective challenge, such as an attentional disorder, learning disability or the like, criticism often depletes the child’s self-esteem stores.
“What needs to be done is to return self-confidence and self-esteem to these children, by accepting and containing them,” Rachel says, highlighting the need for absolute authenticity throughout her therapeutic processes. “Used to not being trusted or valued by adults, these children are far more likely to internalize a harsh word over any positive phrases coming from the outside.”
A prime example is that of Y., an eight-year-old boy who entered Rachel’s clinic and headed straight to the drum set. Rachel was certain he’d take out his aggressions on the drums, but Y. proceeded to gently produce musical beats.
“When he finished playing, I told him: ‘Wow! You played a real tune,’ but he answered that his playing wasn’t great—looking utterly humiliated.” Throughout the remainder of the session, Rachel reflected Y.’s words and feelings back to him, devoid of judgement. She provided a safe space for his negative feelings to surface and be justified. “In this way, we are able to experience the therapeutic journey together, which would never happen if I were to try and convince him that his words are untrue.” It is the containment and validation of the subjective experience that serves as a catalyst to Rachel’s clients’ progress.
There is a need for active observation and work to improve a child’s self-esteem. At Rachel’s therapy clinic, she utilizes an illuminating therapeutic approach that she calls, “Yet.”
“‘Yet’ is the opposite of rendering judgment and is based on the research of Professor Carol Dweck,” she says. Using the word in therapy enables and even invites change. Instead of using critical words to describe a shortcoming or failure, she reflects experiences back to her clients in terms of “not yet,” introducing possibility for future attainment.
This approach is equally effective during sessions with clients’ parents. “In many cases, to raise the client’s self-image, a change must be made to the parents’ interactions with the child,” Rachel explains. “Parents have the best of intentions, but they don’t always know the ideal way to speak or act. I instruct them to employ the “not yet” mantra when encouraging their children, helping them attribute significance to the time and effort spent working towards goals, even if they did not succeed in achieving them.” Through combined play or psychodrama and parenting sessions using her unique approach, Rachel continues to teach children the REAL game of life, full of containment, warmth and confidence, as they should know it.
Rachel Gottesidener holds a Master’s degree in psychodrama and play therapy. She harnesses the power of imaginative play to create an atmosphere of self-awareness and positive thinking for children of all ages and backgrounds, as well as for their parents at her clinic, The REAL Game. She also holds parenting sessions to enable the child’s parents to assume responsibility for their child’s emotional wellbeing and create deep, authentic, lasting change.
Rachel can be reached at [email protected] or 054 846 0454