Fort Langley’s Dr Madeleine De Little is the recipient of the 2021 Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association’s “Counsellor Practitioners Award.”
She was recognized for “demonstrating excellence in leadership as a practicing counsellor and representing the optimal model of a caring person and professional whose knowledge, skills, and talents are valued by clients and colleagues.”
De Little began her career in 1973 by teaching what she called “some of the most deprived areas of England.”
“It wasn’t until I came to Canada that I learned about the role of the school counselor,” she explained.
She went back to school to the University of British Columbia to get the qualification to be a school counsellor and then worked in schools in Vancouver and Langley.
In addition, De Little studied the work of Virginia Satir for 12 years and adapted it to working with children.
“I also studied with Alan Schore, Bessel van der Kolk, and Bonnie Badenoch to learn the neuroscientific research behind how to bring about lasting change,” she noted. “I then adapted it to working creatively. The result is a new way of working based in science that is playful, imaginative, creative, lasting, and profound.”
Called Neuroscience and Satir in the Sand Tray (NSST), De Little’s counselling method does not involve her asking questions directed to the child, but instead to toys, figurines, or dolls involved in her therapy process.
“I might ask the child how the little girl figurine feels about being along in the cave with a wolf right outside. The child might say the wolf is keeping the figurine safe. Or they may say she is scared,” De Little explained.
“When we make the play safe, the child is able to internalize a sense of safety and their nervous system moves to a calmer state,” she continued. “It’s so much easier for all of us to access the internal world through these playful metaphors rather than just talking.”
De Little retired five years ago from her work as a counsellor with the Langley School District, but has since focused her time on her private practice called The Fort Playroom.
“I have a full time counselling practice in Fort Langley where children and adults play and create an internal sense of safety, as they transform their ways of coping,” De Little added.
The doctor also authored a book called “Where Words Can’t Reach” and has since travelled the globe, sharing her methods in many countries – particularly China.
“I returned to learning by attending Simon Fraser University and received my PhD in my new way of doing therapy in 2017,” she noted.
Her NSST method helps the clients regain a sense of safety, which often stems from early neglect or abuse, loss of a parent, through death or abandonment, loss of safety from a car accident, or a sense of being in danger from COVID-19.
The ongoing pandemic has significantly changed how De Little works at the Fort Playroom.
“I tried to do this work online, but I felt it was nowhere near as impactful, so I have opened up the Fort Playroom safely so that the clients are able to come in person and play and heal,” De Little said.
She noted that an increase in children coming in with anxieties, anger, or depression about the pandemic is clear, but she feels her therapy practises have helped.
“My most favorite thing about the job is seeing clients heal,” she assured. “I’m able to help them so that they are able to play and laugh and learn and enjoy other people. I can see in their play that their nervous system is working better and is more integrated.”
De Little was nominated for the award by a colleague and ultimately earned the recognition because she has been able to help so many people around the world.
“When I train 100 psychiatrists in Bangkok, Beijing, or Prague they in turn are able to facilitate lasting change for hundreds maybe even thousands of people,” De Little explained. “It is all a bit unreal really to be selected from all the counsellors and therapists across Canada.”
For more information about the Fort Playroom go to www.wherewordscannotreach.ca.
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