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  • Whole Child Counseling

Using a Green Screen: the Creative Therapy Intervention You Don't Want to Miss!

Updated: Jan 21

When I saw this video with Amy Nelson, LCSW, RPT, of Emotional Milestones I felt so inspired and re-energized! I ordered a green screen right away. I was so excited to interview Amy and speak to her about her practice, how she is adapting to telehealth, and some of the creative ways she uses a green screen in therapy. For clarity, my words are italicized and Amy's are larger.

First, I want to say, I was totally inspired by your video! I ran out and ordered a green screen and I can’t wait until mine gets here to get started with it! But before we talk about green screens and telehealth, I wanted to mention that one of the things I was really drawn to in your video was your energy level! I think it’s so important when working with kids!

I was just thinking how my own kids would have been so drawn to your style! Are you a naturally energetic person, or is that style what you have found to be most useful in meeting the needs of the kids you work with?

The short answer is YES! I am naturally energetic! As a child I was considered hyperactive, however as an adult this quality has made me a perfect fit for working with preschoolers. Another quality that I find has supported me in my work with young children, is that I am “in touch” with my inner child. I am tapped into the child perspective and this allows me to engage with children with a deep sense of attunement.

One of the things I have found most useful in my career is to maintain a positive, mindful presence and an upbeat attitude when working with kids, even if I’m not necessarily feeling 100% myself.

What do you do on days when you are feeling fatigued or stressed out, how do you stay present with the kids and maintain that energy level when working with others? Do you have any tips for other therapists?

Let’s face it, in our current state of reality, the compassion fatigue is real! However, I find that even when I am stressed or tired, the children I work with tend to energize me, giving me the boost I need to carry on. I believe that young children are innately mindful. They feel their feelings without judgement and then get over it. They are in the moment. One of the things I learned early in my career is that I had to stop looking at the grown-ups around me for approval. If I focused on the child, instead of the expectations of the teacher or parent, then I could access the energy and professional intuition necessary to have a successful session.

Can you tell us a little more about the population of kids you work with, your areas of expertise, and your business?

For the last decade I have worked with high needs preschoolers, 3 to 5 years old, in general and special education settings. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Registered Play Therapist, I specialize in the treatment of trauma and attachment, sensory processing differences, and emotional regulation disorders. As I alluded to before, I consider myself fluent in two languages - - adult and child. I use this fluency to translate, educate, and advocate for children. I am passionate about motivating and inspiring caregivers to do it differently. In 2017 I founded Emotional Milestones with the primary mission to help parents and professionals learn to attune to and respond to their preschooler’s underlying needs – rather than focus on the symptoms of misbehavior.

Please tell us a little more about your theoretical orientation and approach to counseling.

I consider myself an Eclectic Prescriptive Play Therapist, which means I do not rely on any one theory or model in my work. Instead, I incorporate many theories and techniques, adapting interventions for specific needs. While I use a blended approach, attachment theory and Dunn’s theory of sensory processing tend to be at the foundation of my work.

What challenges have you had with telehealth?

Like many practitioners, the biggest challenges I have had with telehealth involve both technology and novelty. To address both issues, I have had to maintain a growth mindset. I have had to challenge myself to think of new ways to do my work. To connect with children in a format that can feel flat. I have had to stretch myself to develop new strategies for incorporating my tried-and-true interventions. Above all else, I have had to learn how to show myself grace. As a therapist that felt some bit of mastery in my work, the sudden switch to telehealth felt like starting from scratch. At least one time a day I try to say out loud “I am still learning.”

What has been the best part of telehealth for you?

For me, the best part of telehealth is getting to wear stretchy pants and comfy socks all day! Honestly, I have come to enjoy working from the comfort of my home. Once I established a structure and routine, I was able to accept the process and make mental space to learn new and exciting ways to do my work. Like using the green screen!

Okay now, please tell us about your awesome green screen! Where did you get your supplies? What tools do you suggest a therapist needs to get started?

As a therapist that works in a school setting, I am lucky enough to be surrounded by other brilliant professionals. One day I observed a colleague of mine, who happens to be a speech pathologist, use a green screen activity during virtual circle time. She agreed to give me with a quick tutorial and provided me with a list of resources. I have been inspired ever since!

Green Screen Resources:

Green screen kit: this is the kit I purchased. You can do it in different ways. However, I found that this kit has all the ingredients I need *PLUS* I get to support a small business!

Green screen Facebook Group: Tons of helpful resources on how to use the green screen to promote engagement for virtual teaching

Where do you get your background images for the green screen? Do you use zoom or another platform? How do you switch between the backgrounds so quickly?

I get my background images from various sources. Sometimes background images can be found using a simple google search, however I also have a subscription to a graphic design program called Canva. I use this program to build out certain images such as the birthday cake activity. While I pay monthly for the program, a free option is available.
I personally only use zoom for my green screen application. However, from what I understand other savvy individuals have found creative ways to use zooms green screen feature in their therapy platforms such as Simple Practice.

Where do you get inspiration for your creative green screen activities? Can you share any additional interventions you use on the green screen to keep kids engaged?

Inspiration for my green screen activities come from multiple sources. On some occasions it is an adaptation of an activity I would have used in person, such as row, row, row your boat. Other times I create activities to coincide with the theme or unit that the classroom teachers are using. The Green Screen Facebook group is a major source of inspiration as individuals often share activities that they have created.

How do you get the candle flames to disappear and take a bite out of the cake?

This activity is composed of several individual images I created through Canva. The first image is that of a cake with all 5 flames. For the next image I created a color block to cover one of the flames. I repeated this process for the subsequent images blocking out the flames. In total there are 6 single images for that one activity. I have used up to 50 images in one activity. As you learn more about how to use the green screen you will have a better understanding of the process.

Are there any tricks to using the pockets? How do you line up the pockets to the images so they work so well (like when you are pulling treasure out of the chest?)

I purchased my green screen from Play Spark Toys. It is made of felt and came with a removable felt pocket that is held to the screen with velcro. The velcro allows me to move the pocket anywhere on the green screen that I need it to be. I always practice my activities before I use them with children to ensure that I have everything where it needs to be.

Besides your green screen, what are your most-used and favorite play-therapy supplies for telehealth?

I also use print outs of feelings, books, puppets, and other tangible objects to enhance my work.

Where can people contact you to learn more about your practice and follow you online?

I see children in Missouri and Kansas. You can learn more about my practice at Emotional Milestones. And if you want to be best friends, you can add me on facebook or on instagram.

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