Case Study


Case Study

A Playful Path to Attachment

September/October 2018


Children at any age can be difficult to parent and nurture for many reasons, especially when trauma has shaped their early life experiences. When difficulties arise between parent and child, most therapists naturally focus treatment on the child. But the parent–child bond is a two-way street, and parents come with their own history, which can impede an already challenging child’s ability to attach. Additionally, feelings of connectedness and safety are usually relayed in nonverbal ways that therapists too often ignore: through small moments of eye contact, touch, rhythmic gestures, warm smiles, and ultimately the sharing of joy and delight. But how do you go beyond words to cultivate a deeper sense of attachment in therapy? How do you help a child and parent who are both contributing to the disconnection in their relationship? One such mother–daughter case challenged me recently to take a closer look at this two-way street.

Elaine, a single mother living in the Midwest, had adopted Natasha at age nine from a Russian orphanage. Adoption records indicate that Natasha had been found alone in a dirty apartment without food or heat several times before she’d been sent to live at an aunt’s home at age five. Three years later, she’d been removed again because of neglect and sent to an orphanage, where she’d lived until the time of her adoption. During her first year with Elaine in America, Natasha recounted stories about scary men coming in and out of her parents’…

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6 Comments

Sunday, September 16, 2018 10:25:55 PM | posted by Katie Lott
As an educator and pediatric health communicator, I am deeply impressed by the care and connection that Dafna provided to this family - as well as her ability to tell the story for the benefit of others. Our children's need to feel attached, no matter when or how they have experienced trauma, or not, is the bedrock of our relationships and, indeed, our ability to feel right in the world. What a gift that practitioners like Dafna are helping people like Natasha and Elaine get back to the most wonderful of feelings - feeling right in our own skin, with our loved ones and in our homes.

Monday, September 17, 2018 6:26:48 PM | posted by Shahar
Thank you for this inspiring and well-written piece about playful ways to deal with trauma and insecure attachments in relationships.

Monday, September 17, 2018 9:25:19 PM | posted by Heather Altman
Reading Dafna Lender’s case study, it quickly becomes clear that she has a true gift and passion for helping children who’ve experienced trauma and their parents. In a situation that may feel hopeless to parents and terrifying for children, Dafna gives her clients their first experiences of being seen, accepted and treasured where they are and she guides them opening their hearts and minds to change. It is heartwarming to read of those ice melting moments of connection, laughter and joy that eluded this mother and daughter. Dafna has a grounded, warm and confident presence and recognizes the efforts and accomplishments of this family. She holds up a mirror for them to see their own tender hearts and how allowing their heart connection to grow strengthens and encourages them both. What is obvious but not stated is Ms. Lender’s deep affection for her beloved clients. She relates to them with the lovingkindness, compassion and admiration that they later learn to extend to themselves and each other. Always holding hope for Natasha and Elaine, Dafna Lender leads them from a place of pain towards a promising future.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018 6:13:50 PM | posted by Rebecca Hays
As a clinical social worker who works with teens and families, I appreciate the granular descriptions of therapeutic play interventions-- detailed enough I can recognize how to try them. The writer's warmth & skill set shines through as she describes ways to help Mom identify clinical themes, & note progress. A good learning case, thanks.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018 7:11:37 PM | posted by Carol
I was deeply moved by Dafna Lender's case history of mother and child. The sensitive and delicate nature of repairing attachment cannot be overestimated, and was remarkably executed using play, humor and honesty. I'd love a follow up article!! Thanks!!

Monday, September 24, 2018 10:20:05 AM | posted by Julie
Amazing story about the power of play! I really enjoyed it.