Play Therapy Interventions

A Creative Way to Assess Trauma History

One of my main passions in child therapy is trauma. It’s very weird telling people that I enjoy working with traumatized and abused children. I usually get a really strange look. Unfortunately, this is an area of counseling that continuously needs more interest.

When working with children who have undergone trauma or abuse, it’s always helpful to assess their perception of their trauma history. To do this, I use an intervention called “The Bowl of Light.” I originally heard about this intervention at a training that I attended, but it is derived from Dr. Joyce Mills’ book Therapeutic Metaphors for Children and the Child Within.

Here is what you need for the intervention:


-Stones of various sizes


I introduce the activity by telling my clients a story. I tell them that there was an ancient tribe that believed that everyone had a bowl of light that shined within them. When difficult things happened, it blocked some of the light from shining out of the bowl.

Difficult Things Blocking the Light from Shining

At this point, I show the child the bowl and simulate the light being blocked by placing rocks into the bowl. I tell them that just like the rocks are different sizes, difficult things can impact people in different amounts.

Different Sized Stones Representing the Different Sized Difficulties

I then express that our work together in counseling won’t fully get rid of the difficult things, but make some more light shine through. This is when I take some of the stones out of the bowl to simulate how counseling can assist children.

Counseling Helps to Manage the Difficult Things

I then instruct the child to think of difficult things that have happened in their life, choose a stone to represent the impact of that difficult thing, and place it in the bowl. If the child is having difficulty thinking of events, I give a list of examples (ex. a pet dying, losing their favorite toy, getting hit, someone touching their private parts, watching mom and dad fight). I generally sneakily including some of their trauma history if I am aware of it.

When the child engages in the activity, it can be helpful for the therapist to have a piece of paper set aside to write down their difficult events.

Prior to moving on from the activity, I recommend having the child engage in deep breathing or a grounding activity in order to stay regulated.

Do you have a creative way that you assess children’s trauma history? Tell me about it in the comments below.

Play on!



6 thoughts on “A Creative Way to Assess Trauma History

  1. Great idea! A book I use with my kiddos for our first session together is Whimsy’s Heavy Things. After reading it, we talk about their own heavy things and what we can then learn/build on during our time together to help our heavy things be lighter.


  2. There’s an older book called The Hurt that talks about how hurts are heavy and grow if held in. It’s open ended and works well with kids having all types of hurts. It helps to talk to someone to get rid of the hurt and make it lighter.


  3. Isn’t this from Dr Joyce Mills’ book? Wonderful way to work with clients though. Keep up the fantastic work sounds like you are really making a difference


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